Clint Bowyer on Pole, Jimmie Johnson to Share Front Row for Auto Club 400

Photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin' the Tires

FONTANA, CA — Clint Bowyer earns his fourth career Busch Pole (40.086 seconds; 179.614 mph) in the NASCAR Cup Series for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, edging out Jimmie Johnson by seven-thousandths of a second.

“I was freaking out that the sun kept coming out,” said Bowyer, who claimed his first Busch Pole Award at Fontana, his first of the season and the fourth of his career.

Johnson was the last car to attempt to knock Bowyer off the top spot, but by driving on the apron to drive a shorter distance, Bowyer was able to keep his nose in front of Johnson when compared with FOX Sports’ “ghost car”.

“I knew coming to the green was important,” Bowyer continued as he explained his approach to his qualifying attempt. “Tried to stay out high, try to get up through the gear box as good as you can, but that’s what it was. It stuck down there (in Turns 1 and 2), and everybody else had to kind of chase it up the track and lost speed and momentum.

“Then (Johnson), I’m thinking, ‘Man, if it comes down and I get beat by the last car on the race track, I’m going to freak out.’ I got a pole, baby! Looking forward to tomorrow. It’s going to be a hell of a race.”

For the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, it is his second pole in his last 13 Cup starts. His other two poles came back in 2007, split by 17 events.

In his last race in southern California, Johnson was not going to step away quietly. His qualifying effort was one position shy of where he would want to be, but he still earns a front row seat to watch his wife Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia wave the green flag for Sunday’s race.

“I wish we were one spot further ahead, and clearly, off of Turn 4 there, I ran a little more distance to the start/finish,” said Johnson, native of El Cajon. “Such a fine balance trying to understand how much you can open the wheel and let the engine run. Clearly, I did a little too much.

“That’s just the competitor in me. But a very special weekend for me, and I can’t wait to see my girls up in the flag stand waving that green flag.”

Alex Bowman dominated both practice sessions on Friday and will start third alongside Kurt Busch. Stewart-Haas teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola will start in the third row. Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kyle Busch was the highest qualifying Toyota with a 17th place effort.

Earlier today, Martin Truex Jr. failed inspection three times. As a result, the team’s car chief was ejected for the remainder of the weekend, and Truex was prohibited from a qualifying attempt. The No. 19 Camry will start last, 38th.

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