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Almirola puts No. 43 back on pole in Charlotte

May 24, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Almirola puts No. 43 back on pole in Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. -- The No. 43 is back on the pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- without a Petty behind the wheel.

In a car owned by three-time Charlotte pole-winner Richard Petty, Aric Almirola blew the doors off his competition in Thursday night's qualifying for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, touring the 1.5-mile track in 27.988 seconds (192.940 mph).

Coca-Cola 600

Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.M. Ambrose191.59828.184
3.J. Johnson191.37428.217
4.G. Biffle191.25928.234
5.C. Bowyer191.19828.243

The near-track-record speed, just .04 seconds off Elliott Sadler's 2005 mark, gave Almirola the first Coors Light pole award of his career and allowed him to surpass Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose (191.598 mph), whose No. 9 Ford was fastest in practice.

Fresh off his victory in the Sprint All-Star Race, Jimmie Johnson qualified third at 191.374 mph, followed by Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle (191.259 mph) and Clint Bowyer (191.198 mph). Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Regan Smith will start from positions six through 10, respectively.

In late 2010, RPM was a moribund team, wilting under the majority ownership of George Gillett. But Petty partnered with investors Andy Murstein and Doug Bergeron to save the organization.

Almirola joined Ambrose on the team to start the 2012 season and registered the 122nd pole for the 43 car. Petty accounted for 114 of those.

"It's been a huge honor for me from Day 1 to be able to come to this organization," Almirola said. "I'm not just driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. I'm driving the 43 car, probably the most iconic car in the history of our sport.

"For him [Petty] to allow me to do that, for him to ask me to do that, it's just really special, and it's a big honor to put that 43 car back on top of the board. To see it over there in Victory Lane and get our picture taken and all that stuff is really cool. I know it's only qualifying -- we want to be able to do that after the race -- but it's a start."

Almirola's pole reflects the influence of crew chief Mike Ford, who joined the team before the May 6 race at Talladega.

"I've got short time working with these cars," said Ford, who was crew chief for Denny Hamlin's second-place run in the Cup series in 2010 but was replaced by Darian Grubb after the 2011 season. "I came in for a couple of weeks and observed, and these cars have got speed. They've got a lot of speed to 'em.

"It took me a couple weeks to just understand the approach of how to tune them. Last year, all the Fords ran good at Charlotte, and we came back with that type setup [last week] for the [Sprint Showdown] and kind of embarrassed ourselves, running seventh.

"We went back to work and regrouped and made a cut at something and focused on race trim -- we really didn't focus on qualifying. We know that we've got the balance right, and the car's got speed and Aric's comfortable driving it, so he can go get the speed."

The No. 43 hasn't been to Victory Lane since John Andretti won for Petty Enterprises at Martinsville on April 18, 1999. That stat failed to stem the confidence of the car owner.

"We'll see you Sunday night," Petty said, indicating the dais where the winner's press conference takes place.

Misfortune continued to dog Kurt Busch's Cup effort. The No. 51 driver spun on his first qualifying lap, nicking the outside wall with the right rear of the car before slamming nose-first into the inside barrier.

* Video: Busch slams into the wall

"Sorry, guys," Busch radioed to his crew as he drove the wounded car to the garage. Busch posted no time but is guaranteed a starting spot in the race because of the car's top-35 standing in owner points.

Like Busch, Danica Patrick will make use of an owner points provisional after posting the 43rd-fastest time among 47 drivers. Patrick will start 40th, Busch 42nd.

Notes-N-Nuggets

• Aric Almirola earned his first career pole in his 47th start.
• Almirola's previous best start was third, twice.
• He is the 40th driver to score the pole at Charlotte, and the eighth driver to get his first one there.
• It will be Almirola's first Charlotte start.
• Almirola is the ninth different pole winner of 2012.
• It is the sixth career pole for Richard Petty Motorsports, its first at Charlotte and its first of the season.
• It is the second time RPM has swept the front row (Oct. 2010, Kansas).
• It was Ford's fourth pole of the season and 28th at Charlotte.
• Marcos Ambrose (second) ties his best career start for the third time.
• Jimmie Johnson (third) earned his 10th top-three start in 22 races at Charlotte.
• Greg Biffle (fourth) scored his ninth top-10 start in 12 races this season.
• Clint Bowyer (fifth) had his best qualifying run at Charlotte in his 13th start.
• Kurt Busch will start 42nd after hitting the outside wall in Turn 2 and the inside wall on the backstretch on his first lap.

Mike Bliss, former 600 winner David Reutimann, JJ Yeley and Scott Riggs failed to qualify.