NASCAR Sprint Cup: Ambrose qualifies at better than 203
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The previous time anyone was this fast in qualifying in NASCAR's top series, Richard Petty was still driving.
He's an owner now, but when Marcos Ambrose won the Sprint Cup pole at Michigan International Speedway Saturday for Richard Petty Motorsports, the Hall of Famer was on hand to put the accomplishment in perspective. Ambrose posted a speed of 203.241 mph, the first time since 1987 the 200 mph mark was broken in Sprint Cup qualifying.
"I can't hardly remember that far back," Petty said. "To be able to do it on a flatter race track, not Daytona or Talladega, that is unheard of."
Ambrose made his first Sprint Cup pole a memorable one on a day 19 drivers surpassed 200 mph on the newly paved surface at MIS. Speeds have been soaring since drivers began testing sessions, and NASCAR decided to alter the left-side tires for the race Sunday, but that change didn't affect qualifying.
The most recent time a pole winner broke 200 mph in this series was Bill Elliott, a quarter-century ago at Talladega. Ambrose had the 11th-fastest pole-winning speed in series history.
"It's going to sound great at the bar when you have had about six too many," Ambrose cracked. "It is good bragging rights, I will give it that."
Ryan Newman's track qualifying record of 194.232 mph went by the wayside almost immediately. In fact, 40 drivers broke the mark, set in 2005.
Petty won a pole at MIS in 1972 -- at 157.607 mph.
"When they redid the track and came up here testing and said they were running over 200 mph it was blowing my mind," Petty said. "I think the last time we even flirted with that was when they redid Atlanta and we ran 198 or 199 mph. We knew it was going to be quick but I think it was a whole lot quicker than what we thought and definitely quicker than what Goodyear was thinking."
Goodyear changed its tire recommendation Friday night, saying the high speeds caused increased left-side tire temperatures. Drivers were routinely exceeding 200 mph in practice, with Greg Biffle topping out with a lap Friday of over 204.
Nobody is sure what to expect for the 400-mile race. Drivers were allowed an extra practice session Saturday night after the tire switch was announced.
"We have such a good racecar and team that I feel we can overcome the tire change and I think it is going to make the cars that aren't handling well handle terribly and the cars handling well a little slower," Ambrose said. "I am hoping and I feel like we are going to have a team that is going to react with this tire."
Kevin Harvick was second in qualifying, Biffle third.
• Race: Quicken Loans 400, Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
• When: 1 p.m.
• TV: TNT, telecast begins at noon.
• The skinny: Points leaders in the Chase for the Championship. The top 10 qualify along with two wild cards based on season wins.
1. Matt Kenseth 523
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. --10
3. Greg Biffle --16
4. Denny Hamlin --19
5. Jimmie Johnson --30
6. Kevin Harvick --53
7. Martin Truex Jr. --58
8. Tony Stewart --75
9. Clint Bowyer --80
10. Brad Keselowski --97
Wild cards: Through 14 events, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman would hold the 11th and 12th spots.
First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 am