SONOMA -- Jamie McMurray has been in this position before. But this time, he's going to take a different approach come race day.

On Saturday, McMurray won the pole for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, matching his feat of 2007.

McMurray hopes that's the only similarity to 2007.

"I remember sitting on the pole the last time and not sleeping the whole night worrying about strategy," McMurray said. "When I got to Turn 1, I ran off the track and came out 35th or 40th, then it didn't matter."

McMurray finished 37th.

On Saturday, McMurray, running in the last group in NASCAR's new road-course qualifying format for the Sprint Cup Series, posted a lap of 94.986 mph to edge Marcos Ambrose (94.924 mph).

"We were second and fifth in practice (Friday), so, consistently, we have had a really good car this weekend," McMurray said.

The past six Toyota/Save Mart 350 victors were first-time road-course winners. McMurray becomes a favorite to stretch that streak to seven.

He has a history of doing well at Sonoma. In 2004, he finished second to Jeff Gordon. In other years, McMurray has driven well, only to run into bad luck, with 2007 being the prime example.

But this time, McMurray says he's not going to worry about his strategy starting on the pole.

"I'm going to let everyone else worry about it, and I'll just do what they tell me," he said.

  • NASCAR's new qualifying format for Cup Series road races is the same as what is used in the Nationwide Series. Groups of five or six drivers were on the track at the same time and allowed five minutes to turn a maximum of three laps. Groupings were determined by Friday's practice times, with the slower groups leading off and the fastest drivers going last.

    Previously, qualifying was single-lap, which meant, if a driver made a mistake, he didn't get a second (or third) chance.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 26th, likes the new format.

    "This is the way they should have done it for years," he said. "It's a lot easier to get everything done and get everything accomplished, and it gives us a little bit more exciting session to watch. So I'm all for it."

  • Ambrose had one of those qualifying laps that might make one wonder, "What if?"

    What if Ambrose hadn't had an off-on engine problem just before he began his lap? Would he have gained the five-hundredths of a second that would have given him the pole?

    "The motor quit running. I lost all momentum coming to the green flag," said Ambrose, who still posted the second-fastest speed.

    Ambrose's engine stall was mysterious, as was the fact that it somehow refired as Ambrose reached the starting line. The problem was thought to be electrical.

  • Carl Edwards thought he would have a relatively stressless qualifying run Saturday.

    But crew chief Jimmy Fennig had other ideas, taping up the car's air ducts for an aerodynamic edge. At the same time it meant the car had less cooling air, limiting Edwards to one lap or risk overheating.

    "The qualifying format was supposed to be easier on the drivers, because we were supposed to get a couple of laps," Edwards said. "But my crew chief taped the grille off and said that we'd get just one lap."

    The strategy worked. Edwards went 94.779 mph, good enough for third on the grid. That's the best starting position Edwards has had at Sonoma. Over the years, qualifying here had not been his strong suit.

    "I've messed up qualifying a lot of different ways, but this is probably the best lap I've ever had here, so I'm pretty proud of that," Edwards said.

  • Danica Patrick should be safe for a few laps Sunday. She qualified 31st, nine spots behind nemesis Jacques Villeneuve.

    Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One world champion and 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, has gained notoriety in NASCAR for his reckless driving in stock cars. Last year, in a Nationwide Series race at Road America, he spun Patrick on the last lap, ruining what had been a good run for her. Other drivers have hinted that they don't like seeing Villeneuve in their mirrors.

    "Their outlook on me is a little bit biased," Villeneuve said. "I'm not as aggressive as they think. So it's just an image that has happened, and was built, and it got out of control and I'm not sure why."

    Contact Darryl Matsuda at 408-920-5215. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DarrylMatsuda.