By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
In a qualifying session that should have merited hazard pay for the 10 final-round drivers, Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric backed up his victory in the Great American Race with a pole-winning run on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Cindric will start where he finished the 500 in Sunday’s Wise Power 400 NASCAR Cup Series event at the 2-mile track (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford posted a lap in 41.226 seconds (174.647 mph) to score the first pole of his Cup career six days after claiming his first win.
The last driver to attempt a lap, Chase Elliott, tested the apron in Turn 3 and spun in Turn 4, posting no time. As a result, Erik Jones will start second after a lap in 41.342 seconds (174.157 mph).
In a session that featured two groups of 18 drivers each in Round 1, with the five fastest drivers from each group advancing to the final round, four-time Fontana winner Kyle Busch qualified third, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
“It’s such a challenging race track, and, obviously, a lot of newness for everybody,” Cindric said while waiting for Elliott to run his qualifying lap. “Overall, it’s been an awesome week for me, and I’m honestly real happy to get back to work and figuring out this process.
“I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had to talk myself into doing a lap like that for quite a while. There are so many unknowns. Everybody’s constantly learning. I think we’ll be halfway through the race until anyone knows what they really have.”
Elliott wasn’t the only casualty in the final round. Joey Logano, who was fastest in Group A in Round 1, also tried the apron and smacked the outside wall at the exit of Turn 4. Brad Keselowski and William Byron also spun during their money laps but kept their cars off the wall.
Daniel Hemric and Ryan Blaney will occupy the third row for the start of Sunday’s race, with Logano, Elliott, Keselowski and Byron sixth through 10th on the grid, respectively.
Reigning series champion Kyle Larson starts 13th after failing to advance to the final round, and 2020 race winner Alex Bowman will take the green flag from 14th. There was no event at Auto Club Speedway in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Note: Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Justin Haley, Kevin Harvick and Ross Chastain did not post qualifying times and will start from the bottom six positions in the 36-car field. Busch’s No. 45 Toyota failed inspection three times and was not allowed to qualify; Almirola spun on his Round 1 qualifying lap; and the other four drivers wrecked during practice.
(Feature Photo: Getty Images / NASCAR Media Group)