Matt Kenseth won his first pole of the season Friday and will be joined on the front row Sunday by a driver with plenty of experience on the front row this year.
Brad Keselowski will start on the front row for the fourth time this season, as he will start beside Kenseth when the Auto Club 400 goes green at Auto Club Speedway.
Here’s a breakdown of the starting lineup for the 200-lap race on the 2-mile track, the only Sprint Cup visit to the Fontana., Calif. facility this season:
1. Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota — On the pole for just the 12th time in his career but the eighth time in the last four years. He’s the highest driver in the standings (eighth) without a top-five this year.
2. Brad Keselowski, Team Penske No. 2 Ford — Suffered one of his worst wrecks here in 2007 in the Nationwide Series. Was sent to the hospital and didn’t have his phone to let family know he was OK. That’s why he had phone in his car for Daytona 500 couple years ago.
3. Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet — All that talk about how he hasn’t won this year could end Sunday.
4. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet — Two mechanical issues the last two weeks. But it’s still Happy Harvick since he has speed. That was pretty evident in qualifying, where he had the fastest lap in any round but ran it in the first round and not the final one that determined the top-12 order.
5. Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota — Hasn’t had great fortune this year but, hey, at least his Kansas Jayhawks won Friday. And his qualifying result wasn’t a bad way to finish off the day.
6. Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet — He won the first Cup race at this track in 1997 and has three wins here, but the last came 10 years ago.
7. Joey Logano, Team Penske No. 22 Ford — While roasted for it, his standing up for himself at California a year ago showed a new don’t-bully-me attitude that has served him well.
8. Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Ford — Great run at Bristol as he finished fifth and moved up to 15th in the standings. Maybe Ambrose and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer are finally starting to click.
9. Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing No. 99 Ford — A NASCAR flagman mistake nearly cost him a win last week but, thankfully, rain ended Bristol. Good fortune continued with decent qualifying despite an engine scare for Roush Fenway cars earlier in afternoon.
10. Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet — Doesn’t matter how the leg feels when you finish fourth. Maybe that’s why Stewart was smiling after Bristol. And now he has his best start of 2014.
11. Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet — Will be interesting to see how the rookie Larson manages his tires in a long Cup race. If he runs well Sunday, great sign for his future.
12. Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Motorsports No. 78 Chevrolet — Accident last week relegated him to 36th at Bristol. He’s a frustrating 29th in the standings.
13. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota — He badly wants to return here as he returns to the site of his big wreck last year that resulted in his broken back. Will need more speed in race than he had in qualifying.
14. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota — Anyone remember he won at California last year? Of course, he doesn’t expect you to and said as much in his postrace news conference that the race will be remembered for the Hamlin-Logano-Stewart craziness.
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet — Fell to second in the standings after a sub-par Bristol. Probably not all that worried about it. Heck, he’s admitting his girlfriend calls him by his first name, Ralph.
16. Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet — Back-to-back top 10s has him ninth in the Cup standings. Not a bad start at all with a new team.
17. Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet — Needs an impressive run in home of sponsor Haas Automation. Plus, needs an impressive run as he is just 31st in the standings.
18. AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet — Hasn’t had a very good race but hasn’t had a horrible race this year. This qualifying would classify as pretty good.
19. Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota — Vickers working as a spokesman this weekend for TreatMyClot.com as Vickers tries to promote people to get checked if having symptoms of blood clots. Vickers said he nearly waited too long in 2010 when first diagnosed.
20. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet — No surprise that Dillon has been the top rookie in two races this year and Larson has been top rookie twice. They will battle throughout the season for rookie honors.
21. Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford — Third-place fun at Bristol was his career-best finish in Cup. Don’t be surprised if he gets a regular-season win and makes the Chase. Maybe be a little surprised if that win comes Sunday.
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford — Enjoyed career-best finish last week at Bristol with a second-place run.
23. Michael Annett, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet — Making it into the round of 24 in qualifying was big boost for him and team.
24. Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 Ford — Never went out in second round of qualifying so automatically starting 24th. Watching him will tell people how easy it is to pass (or not to pass) Sunday.
25. Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet — Got rammed in the bumper under caution at Bristol. Then spun on his own in practice Friday. Good luck has to come his way soon.
26. Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet — No top-fives in four races. He needs one soon and by the looks of qualifying, Sunday could be a struggle.
27. Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Chevrolet — Finally had something to somewhat smile about as she finished 18th at Bristol.
28. Justin Allgaier, HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet — Career-best for Allgaier last week at Bristol with a 17th-place finish.
29. David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford — A 22nd at Bristol helped get him into top-30 in the standings.
30. Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet — Matt Crafton qualified the car as Menard stayed home an extra day after birth of child Tuesday night. Menard is expected to practice car Saturday and start in the rear Sunday.
31. Casey Mears, Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet — Still top-20 in points and can’t complain even if this starting spot lower than expected.
32. Parker Kligerman, Swan Racing No. 30 Toyota — At 37th in the standings, lowest among any of those who have started four races. Not an indication of how he’s run.
33. David Reutimann, Front Row Motorsports No. 35 Ford — Reutimann making his season debut after not qualifying this car last weekend.
34. Cole Whitt, Swan Racing No. 26 Toyota — Has only one career start in any of the three national series at California.
35. Travis Kvapil, Go FAS Racing No. 32 Ford — Being in top-36 not a big deal Friday since only 43 cars entered, but still nice to know he can make it and not need a provisional.
36. Reed Sorenson, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 Chevrolet — His 27th spot in the standings is certainly respectable — ahead of two Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.
37. Brian Scott, Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet — Competing in the third of five races expected in this car this season.
38. Josh Wise, Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Chevrolet — Finished 23rd at Bristol and then picked up sponsor Trench Shoring Company for California. Things looking good.
39. Ryan Truex, BK Racing No. 83 Toyota — Teammate starting beside him shows cars are probably pretty equal.
40. Alex Bowman, BK Racing No. 23 Toyota — His 32nd at Bristol was best of the season since Daytona.
41. David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford — Been a rough year so far for Ragan, who is 32nd in the standings.
42. Joe Nemechek, Identity Ventures Racing No. 66 Toyota — Didn’t push it in qualifying as he is nearly eight miles an hour slower than the pole.
43. Landon Cassill, Mike Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevrolet — Second scary crash in practice in last two weeks. Can only hope for a clean race.