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Montoya surprises even himself with Pocono pole

August 04, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service,

Earnhardt Ganassi driver notches first of season with calculated move in quals

LONG POND, Pa. -- Benefitting from an early draw and aided by cloud cover that burned off as Saturday's qualifying session progressed, Juan Montoya was the surprise winner of the pole for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

Montoya turned a lap at the 2.5-mile triangular track in 51.124 seconds (176.043 mph) and waited as the fastest cars from Friday's first practice session failed to unseat him from the top spot. The Coors Light Pole Award was the Colombian driver's first of the season, his first at Pocono and the eighth of his career.

Pennsylvania 400

2.D. Hamlin175.79551.196
3.P. Menard175.62751.245
4.K. Kahne175.43951.300
5.M. Ambrose175.43251.302

* Out Front with Miss Coors Light: Rachel with Juan

"To be honest with you, I'm not sure if I'm more shocked that we're on the pole right now -- with how the last few races have been for us and how our season's been -- or that we're on the pole at Pocono," Montoya said. "This is a place where I normally struggle in qualifying.

Early qualifiers also filled the second and third spots, with Denny Hamlin (175.795 mph) claiming the second starting spot and Paul Menard (175.627 mph) the third. Menard posted his lap in a backup car, after his primary car was wrecked beyond repair during Friday's practice.

Kasey Kahne (175.439 mph) will start fourth in the 21st Sprint Cup Series race of the season, followed by Marcos Ambrose (175.432 mph) and Kurt Busch (175.339 mph).

Montoya was the 16th driver to make a qualifying attempt. Menard and Hamlin followed before the sun began to heat the track in earnest. But Montoya was happy for any good fortune during a season that has produced just two top-10s in 20 races for the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet.

"This is a big boost for everybody on the Target team," Montoya said. "We really needed a little bit of light. We know we've been working in the right direction. We know we've been working hard, and we feel that the cars are getting a little better, but to actually get out there and get a pole . . .

"I just went through the hauler, and all the engineers are happy, laughing. I've seen a lot of long faces and a lot of stressful faces -- we really needed something like this as a company."

Montoya's early draw was calculated. He deliberately did not post a fast speed in Friday's first practice, during which the qualifying order is set, slowest first to fastest last. The team looked at the weather forecast and determined to take an early draw if rain wasn't likely.


• Juan Montoya won his eighth-career pole, his first of the season, in his 202nd race.
• The Earnhardt Ganassi driver's last pole was at Richmond in April 2011.
• It's Juan Montoya's first Pocono pole in his 12th start.
• Pocono Raceway is the sixth different track where Juan Montoya has won the pole.
• Juan Montoya is the 15th driver to win a pole in 2012.
• The pole was won by Juan Montoya as the fourth driver to sit in the spot.
• It is the first pole of 2012 for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, and the first at Pocono.
• EGR is the seventh team to win a pole in 2012.
• Denny Hamlin (second) grabbed his fourth front-row start at Pocono.
• Paul Menard (third) earned his third top-five start at Pocono.
• Kasey Kahne (fourth) posted his seventh top-five start at Pocono.
• Marcos Ambrose (fifth) notched his best Pocono start in his eighth race.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (eighth) has qualified eighth in both Pocono races in 2012.

"It's the right call," Montoya said. "Do we have the fastest car out there? No, but qualifying is the same as racing -- you've just got to make the right call and do whatever it takes to get it done, and that's what we did."