Hendrick lacks muscle in Sonoma qualifying
June 21, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
SONOMA, Calif. -- While it was of little surprise that Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger won front row starting positions for Sunday's Save Mart 350, there will be plenty of anomaly farther back on the starting grid thanks to an eventful morning of knockout qualifying Saturday on the Sonoma Raceway road course.
Rookie Kyle Larson will start third in his very first Sprint Cup race at the 1.99-mile, 10-turn course, and Danica Patrick's 11th-place starting position is her first top-12 start in a month and only fourth of the season. Casey Mears will start 12th, only his second top-12 start of the year.
Equally as newsworthy was that not a single of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars advanced past the first 30-minute qualifying session despite being quick in practice on Friday. Jeff Gordon's 15th-place qualifying effort was tops on the team. His teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd) and Kasey Kahne (30th) will have some ground to make up to earn HMS its sixth consecutive win this year.
Marcos Ambrose, who held the track's qualifying record before McMurray's fast lap (96.350 mph) on Saturday, will start 23rd directly behind two-time Sonoma winner Tony Stewart in 21st -- the only member of his four-car Stewart-Haas Racing team not to advance to the final qualifying round.
The track's all-time winningest driver, with five wins, and current Sprint Cup Series championship leader Gordon conceded he was surprised with qualifying in general and his effort in particular, but wasn't overly concerned about his chances in Sunday's race.
"When we come here to Sonoma -- and as good as yesterday went -- I was optimistic we'd be top-five or maybe even have a shot at the pole," said Gordon, who is driving the No. 24 Panasonic-sponsored Chevy this weekend.
"I honestly thought that first lap was going to be good enough to get us through.
"It's disappointing. We pride ourselves on being good on a road course, especially here at Sonoma.
"We'll talk to our teammates and see what they were dealing with as well. It's very disappointing not to have any Hendrick cars in that top-12.
"I feel really good about the race though. We didn't show a lot of speed in qualifying form yesterday either.
"There's a lot of tough competition out there and that's the bottom line. We didn't do our jobs well enough to get in (the top-12). Talk to me tomorrow when the race is over and if you don't see a Hendrick car in the top five or six then we'll have a concern."