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Montoya Sets The Pace In Sprint Cup Qualifying

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011

It was a happy Juan Pablo Montoya who won the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway on Friday. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images for NASCAR)


Juan Pablo Montoya won the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway with a lap at 184.653 mph on Friday.

The pole was the sixth of Montoya’s career. His last pole came at Talladega last October.

Montoya, driving an Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, heads into Sunday’s race eighth in points – 20 behind leader Kurt Busch. It will be his 150th start in the series. His best finish at Auto Club is third. He did that in October of 2009.

The best Montoya had qualified for a race this year prior to Friday was 13th. His other three starts came from outside the top 20.

Late Friday, the Colombian driver was asked about his poor qualifying efforts this year.

“I would love to know,” Montoya said. “I really don’t know. As long as we have the race pace we’ve been having this year, I’ll tell you the truth I don’t mind qualifying in the back. Brian (Pattie, his crew chief)  has been making really good calls all year and if you have a good car you can always come back.

“But always it will make pit selection better and there’s a lot of things that are better by qualifying good. I think you can look after the car more than the race. I think that always helps. What a change? I don’t know. There was a lot less grip in qualifying than there was at the beginning of practice. So I don’t know. He told me everybody was running about the same, so I thought it should be a little bit more for us because my lap in practice at the beginning really sucked.”

Denny Hamlin, who finished second in points last year, was second fastest in qualifying Friday. He turned a lap at 184.270 mph in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“It’s been a good day,” Hamlin said. “Focusing on qualifying and things like that, I’ve really never worked so hard to work on just one lap before as much as I have this week.  I’m trying to get better.  Last week we had issues at Bristol and that was because we qualified bad.  We can’t put ourselves in the middle of the pack every weekend.  We’re trying to slowly work to get better at qualifying and I felt like I’m taking steps to do that.”

Third was Joey Logano, also of JGR, whose fast lap was at 184.134 mph.

“It was more surprising than anything else,” Logano said.  “I didn’t think it was that great of a lap.  I had a terrible time getting up to speed coming to the green.  Thought that kind of set me up for a bad lap.  I had a better (turns) one and two than I had in practice – so I’m excited about that.  It was good.  I’m excited about it.  I’m a little surprised about it.  We have to figure out why we ran so much faster.  I’m a little bit confused, but I’ll take it.”

Asked how important qualifying is at Auto Club, Logano said, “It’s huge.  Obviously, being down towards the front part of pit road helps a lot.  Here maybe not as much as last week at Bristol, but either way you want to qualify up front.  This place is hard to qualify – you overdrive it a little bit into (turn) one and it can really change your whole lap probably within a half-a-second – missing a little bit.  I guess I got it all out of the way in practice because I couldn’t hit my line to save my life in practice.  I got it right this time when it counted.”

Regan Smith, in a Furniture Row Racing car, was fourth. Tony Stewart was fifth in a Chevrolet.

Rounding out the top 10 were David Ragan, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin.

Points-leader Busch qualified 23rd while defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was 16th.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011
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