Jamie McMurray won the pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 after topping Marcos Ambrose in the Sprint Cup Series' new qualifying format at Sonoma Raceway.
McMurray posted a lap at 94.986 mph during Saturday's qualifying at this 1.99- mile road course in Northern California for his ninth career Sprint Cup pole but his first since March 2011 at Martinsville (81 races ago). He also won the pole at Sonoma in 2007.
For the first time in the history of NASCAR's premier series, a group-based format was used in qualifying. The series will use this format for its two road-course races of the season (Sonoma and Watkins Glen, N.Y.). Teams qualified in groups instead of the traditional single-car runs used for the oval tracks.
McMurray and Ambrose were among the five drivers who ran in group 8. The top- five finishers in Friday's practice at Sonoma made up the final group.
"I thought the qualifying format was really good," McMurray said. "You get to gap yourself from the guys who are in front of you and take it pretty easy. It was very similar to practice, which I thought was good."
Ambrose, who excels in road-course racing, claimed the outside pole after he turned a lap at 94.924 mph. Ambrose experienced an engine issue before he took the green flag to start his first qualifying lap.
"The motor quit running when I came to green flag, so I lost all of my momentum," Ambrose said. "I thought about bailing out of that lap and rolling around for a second lap, but I wasn't sure about engine temperatures. And the tires go away so fast. I didn't know if I had already stressed them out. So I just went for it and pretty much lost my mind there and was really mad. But it was good enough for front row."
Carl Edwards had his best qualifying run at Sonoma with a third-place finish, while his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, who won last weekend's race at Michigan, took the fourth spot. Edwards was among those in group 5.
"I was really happy with the lap," Edwards said. "I made a couple of little mistakes, and I think I could have done better. But still, it's the best position I've had starting here."
Clint Bowyer, the defending race winner, qualified fifth, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, who has the most wins at Sonoma with five, completed the top-10.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 19th, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will roll off 26th. Danica Patrick will start 31st. Patrick is the first female driver to compete in a Cup race at Sonoma.
Jacques Villeneuve, Boris Said and Ron Fellows are among those road-racing specialists competing in this race. Villeneuve qualified 22nd, Said 24th and Fellows 25th.
Victor Gonzalez Jr., who is making his debut in the series, will start from the rear of the field after he crashed in qualifying. Gonzalez ran off course in turn 10 and hit the tire barrier.
All 43 drivers who participated in qualifying made the starting field for Sunday's 110-lap race at Sonoma, which is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m. ET.