SONOMA, Calif. – Marcos Ambrose had never won a Sprint Cup Series pole before last week.
Now he has two in a row.
Ambrose won the top starting spot Friday for Sunday’s race at Sonoma with a fast lap around the 1.99-mile road course. He knocked off five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, then waited to see if Jeff Gordon could beat him.
I don’t know if I got it all, but I got a lot of it, Ambrose said after his lap, which averaged 95.262 mph.
Gordon, the career leader on road courses with nine victories, was the last driver to attempt to qualify. He ran an aggressive lap around the 10-turn course, and just missed the pole with an average speed of 95.067 mph.
Gordon will start second.
I thought it was a really good lap, Gordon said. Hey, you’ve got to credit where credit is due: Marcos laid down a heck of a lap and we came up just a little bit short. We knew that was going to be a tough lap to beat.
Ambrose, who excels at road course racing but is showing rapid improvement on ovals and picked up his first pole in 134 races last week at Michigan, said his Richard Petty Motorsports had his Ford ready for Sonoma.
We put a lot of effort into this road course program, said Ambrose, who raced to his lone Cup victory last year on the road course at Watkins Glen. I’m thrilled for my team and it takes a whole team to qualify on pole two weeks in a row.
Johnson ended up third, putting the Hendrick Motorsports teammates second and third on the starting grid, but said he’s got a lot of work to do on his Chevrolet.
We’ve been really struggling on comfort in the car since we unloaded, Johnson said. Clearly the speed is in the car, but the comfort is not quite there. We just worked on qualifying trim and it was on edge the whole lap. I hope that we can get some rear grip in the car and get things to calm down for the race, because I don’t want drive 110 laps the way it drove today.
Greg Biffle qualified fourth in a Ford, and was followed by Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who will start sixth and seventh in Toyotas.
Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch qualified seventh and eighth, Sprint Cup Series points leader Matt Kenseth was ninth, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
Brad Keselowski in 13th was the highest qualifying Dodge.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ended his four-year losing streak with last week’s win at Michigan, qualified 19th.