Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske once again were the cream of the crop in qualifying ahead of the Auto Club 400.
Matt Kenseth drove the #20 Joe Gibbs Toyota to pole with a lap of 38.438 seconds, 187.315mph, around the 2-mile Fontana circuit. Brad Keselowski took second in the Penske Ford, booking his fourth consecutive front row start, failing to qualify outside the top-two since the debut of the new knockout qualifying format.
Lining up behind the top two is six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, with Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top five.
Kenseth was near the top of the time-sheets in all three rounds, with times dropping in each segment due to the circuit’s abrasive surface. Harvick held the early advantage, setting the fastest time in the first segment, while Gordon walked away from the second segment with the top time.
“We unloaded, and we had some really good speed, and that translated to qualifying trim,” said Kenseth, who will start from pole for the first time at Auto Club Speedway “Jason [Ratcliff, crew chief] did a really good job the last two weeks of making good adjustments through the rounds and making it how we needed it for the last one. They gave me the car, and really, all I had to do was not mess it up.”
Keselowski left it as late as possible to set his final time, using all three sessions to optimise the car and owing his strong pace to crew chief Paul Wolfe.
“We needed all the time we could get to dial our car in and make the adjustments we needed, and we barely had enough time to get it done,” Keselowski said. “It took me all three shots to get in the top 10. Fortunately, the last one was our best. Qualifying up front is always fun and always a great start to the weekend, but there’s more to be done in the race, so we’ve got to keep that going as well.”
Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex, Jr. were the last of the drivers in the final top-12 shootout.