Date:             March 22, 2013

Event:            Auto Club 400 Qualifying (Round 5 of 36)

Series:           NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:        Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (2-mile oval)

Pole Winner:   Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (38.410 seconds at 187.451 mph)

SHR Lineup:    Tony Stewart (8th, 38.738 seconds at 185.864 mph)

                     Ryan Newman (20th, 39.133 seconds at 183.988 mph)

                     Danica Patrick (40th, 40.155 seconds at 179.305 mph)

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, led the three-car Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent in time trials Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., by qualifying eighth for the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday. Stewart turned a lap of 38.738 seconds at 185.864 mph around the 2-mile oval. 

“We improved by about half a second from practice to qualifying,” said Stewart, who is a two-time winner at Fontana, including last year’s Auto Club 400. “The biggest thing we have to work on is the balance of our racecar. We’ve fought the same thing since we unloaded and if we can fix that then we could be in really good shape Sunday.”

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet SS for SHR, will start 20th after posting a lap of 39.133 seconds at 183.988 mph.

“I cost us some time getting into turn 1,” said Newman, who has finished among the top-10 in each of his last three Sprint Cup races at Fontana. “I got the right rear on one of the seams, and that got the car loose all the way through (turns) 1 and 2. I struggled a little bit with turns 3 and 4 as well with the seams. We’ve got a couple of practice sessions tomorrow to get the WIX Filters Chevrolet dialed in.”

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet SS for SHR, qualified 40th after posting a lap of 40.155 seconds at 179.305 mph.

“I think we’re just trying to figure out what works for me and what makes me feel comfortable in the Chevrolet when you have to go really hard and know the limits of the car like in qualifying,” said Patrick, who will make her 15th career Sprint Cup start on Sunday, but her first at Fontana. “I’m confident about what’s underneath me. I have a lot to learn especially when it comes to getting the most speed out of the car, but we’re going to figure it out eventually. We’re just learning right now.”

Denny Hamlin captured his 13th career Sprint Cup pole, his first of the season and third at Fontana by turning a lap of 38.410 seconds at 187.451 mph.

Greg Biffle qualified second after clocking in at 38.458 seconds at 187.217 mph, while Brad Keselowski was third (38.472 seconds at 187.149 mph). Both Biffle and Keselowski will have to drop to the tail of the field for the start of Sunday’s 200-lap race after changing engines in practice. Kyle Busch (38.476 seconds at 187.130 mph) and Matt Kenseth (38.567 seconds at 186.688 mph) rounded out the top-five.

Forty-three drivers attempted to qualify for the Auto Club 400. All made the race since there are 43 starting positions in a Sprint Cup field. 

Toyota took the top spot among manufacturers via Hamlin’s pole run. Ford was next-best at the hands of Biffle. Chevrolet was the third-fastest make thanks to Stewart.

The Auto Club 400 gets underway at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with a pre-race show at 2:30p.m.