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Larson wins pole at home track in Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Larson proved again that he knows his way around Sonoma.

Larson claimed the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series race on his home track for the second straight year, turning a lap at 94.597 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet on Saturday.

Larson earned his sixth career pole and his second on the familiar road course at Sonoma Raceway. The 25-year-old driver grew up in the Sacramento suburbs and attended races at this track as a fan of fellow Northern Californian Jeff Gordon.

“Qualifying here is one of my favorite things of the year,” Larson said. “I’m glad we could pick up a lot of time there and get the pole.”

Larson edged Martin Truex Jr., who will start on the front row after turning a lap at 94.484 mph. Chase Elliott qualified in third, and Larson teammate Jamie McMurray was fourth.

Although Larson enjoys this track, he still hasn’t won a NASCAR race here. He didn’t finish better than 12th in his first four races, and he finished 26th last season in a typically contact-filled race after starting from the pole.

“Well, I have a long ways to go to get better at racing here,” Larson said. “I can always qualify good here for some reason, but racing seems to be a struggle, for whatever reason. I smoke the tires off it. I’ve been working hard to get better each and every year.”

More things to know about qualifying in wine country:

STEADY TRUEX: The defending Cup Series champion remains dependable in qualifying. Truex has 11 starts in the top 10 this year, with three poles and five front-row starts. He finished in the top 10 at Sonoma for the sixth time in 13 career races.

LEADERS CLOSE: Kevin Harvick finished sixth in the fastest Ford on the grid. Cup Series points leader Kyle Busch will start ninth.

DINGER DINGED: A.J. Allmendinger typically excels on road courses, and he led qualifying after the first round by turning a lap in 75.828 seconds. Larson beat that time in the second round, and Allmendinger qualified in fifth after failing to match his first-round time.

ROOKIE WORK: William Byron was the highest-qualifying rookie in eighth. The youngster spent several hours in the simulator to prepare for the Sonoma course, but that’s no surprise: Even Larson used the simulator to learn more about the finer points of the track.

KEEP COOL: Larson isn’t overly excited about his pole position largely because he remembers the frustration of last year’s finish. He is still cautiously optimistic that Sunday will be better. “We were really fast in qualifying last year, obviously, with the pole,” Larson said. “And then, man, we were terrible in the race. I don’t really know what to expect for tomorrow, but I feel like the balance of our car (Friday) in practice was a lot better than what it was in the race last year. In the race last year, I couldn’t even turn. I would be off the gas, turn the wheel and I would just drive straight off the track. I had no grip.”

___

More AP racing: https://www.racing.ap.org

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