News & Media


Montoya turns qualifying program around with Fontana pole

March 29, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Juan Montoya found a quick cure for his qualifying woes Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

Montoya improved dramatically on his 23.5 average starting position this season in winning the Coors Light pole award for Sunday's Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at the 2-mile track.

Fontana

Lineup
Pos. DriverMake
2. D. HamlinToyota
3. J. LoganoToyota
4. R. SmithChevrolet
5. T. StewartChevrolet

Turning a lap in 38.992 seconds (184.653 mph), Montoya was the only driver to break 39 seconds in time trials for the fifth race of the season. Denny Hamlin claimed the second starting spot with a lap at 184.270 mph.

Joey Logano (184.134) put his No. 20 Toyota in the third spot on the grid, and Regan Smith (184.030) improved his series-best qualifying average to 5.8 with a fourth-place effort.

Tony Stewart and David Ragan will start Sunday's race from the fifth and sixth spots, respectively.

Montoya acknowledged the importance of the benefits of winning the pole -- the selection of pit stall No. 1 among them -- but said that his mid-pack qualifying average hasn't bothered him this year.

"As long as we have the race pace that we've had this year, I don't mind qualifying in the back," said Montoya, who is eighth in the Cup standings. "If you have a good car, you can always come back. But this will make pit selection better. There's a lot of things that are better by qualifying good.

"I think you can look after the car more during the race, and I think that always helps."

Hamlin was motivated to post a fast qualifying lap, given that a 25th-place start last Sunday at Bristol put him in harm's way. Hamlin was one of many victims in an early multi-car wreck and struggled to a 33rd-place finish.

"I've really never worked so hard to work on just one lap before as much as I have this week," Hamlin said. "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."

Series points leader Kurt Busch will take the green flag from the 23rd position, with second-place Carl Edwards starting 18th.

"We're still trying to figure out the balance," Busch said. "We're loose one run, tight the next. We're just struggling with the front-end ride quality. There wasn't a lot of practice time today, so [Saturday's] sessions will be a key in trying to get this car dialed in for the race."

Notes-n-nuggets

-- Juan Montoya earns his sixth Cup Series pole in his 150th start.
-- Juan Montoya claims his first top-10 start of 2011.
-- This is Juan Montoya's third consecutive season with at least one pole.
-- Chevrolet claims its second pole of 2011.
-- Eleven of the 21 Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway were won from a top-10 starting position.
-- Only one of the 21 Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway were won from the pole (Jimmie Johnson Aug. 2008).
-- Three of the past five races were won from starting positions outside the top-20.

Forty-three drivers made qualifying attempts, the fewest in the Cup series this season, but enough for a full field.