WATKINS GLEN, New York — After faltering in the final Sprint Cup practice, AJ Allmendinger was searching for answers.
He found them on Saturday, winning the pole in knockout qualifying at Watkins Glen International.
Allmendinger turned a fast lap of 127.839 mph to beat Martin Truex Jr. for the top spot. After being 28th in final practice on Friday, that was a huge relief for the defending race winner.
"It means we lead the field to turn one, at least," Allmendinger said. "I was frustrated yesterday. I was overdriving, trying to get more than was there. I didn't do a good job."
He did when it counted, besting Truex by three-tenths of a second around the 2.45-mile layout.
A year ago, Allmendinger won a fender-bashing duel with Marcos Ambrose at the end to win his first Sprint Cup race, but his pole win at Sonoma in June was for naught when a fuel pickup issue relegated him to a 37th-place finish.
"Going into tomorrow I feel happy with what we've got," Allmendinger said. "We'll see. It's a tough race. Hopefully, we're reliving last year. It's so critical around here (to start up front). Everybody's so close. It's tough to pass. You start beating and banging on each other. Your fenders get torn up. It's a good start. Strategy plays a lot in this race."
Five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart qualified third. He was competing less than 24 hours after the family of a driver struck and killed by Stewart's car on an upstate New York dirt track a year ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NASCAR star.
Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sonoma winner Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon. Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top 12.
Busch, who is just outside the top 30 in points, is starting in a good spot with five races left in NASCAR's regular season. Busch, who has four wins, needs to be in the top 30 in points to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup title. He trails 30th-place David Gilliland by 13 points and Gilliland qualified 37th.
Only minutes after Joey Logano took the pole for the Xfinity Series race with a record speed, he failed to crack the top 12 to make the final round in qualifying and will start 16th.
"I needed to go faster," Logano said. "I had a good first lap, but everyone picks up so much on their second lap that you've got to go out and run again. I didn't get a clean lap and couldn't get everything out of it. We'll have our work cut out. I think we're decent, but it's going to take a while to get up there."
For Gordon, it will be the final road race of his impressive career, and he'll be trying to extend his NASCAR record for road course wins to an even 10.
"Based on yesterday, I felt the car was really solid and we could get a little bit more out of it," the four-time Cup champion said. "That just didn't happen. We ran a little bit slower than we did yesterday, but still, fifth is a great starting place at Watkins Glen."
Gordon was nearly a half-second faster than the rest of the field in final practice and the pole winner a year ago. Still, he's in a good spot, too, because starting up front on the high-speed track is critical.
Nine of 32 Cup races at Watkins Glen have been won from the pole, the most recent Kyle Busch in 2008, and two have been won from second. A top-five starting position has produced 21 wins and no race has been won from a starting position outside the top 20.