WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — This week, the pole was no surprise to Juan Pablo Montoya.
The unexpected winner of the top starting spot last week at Pocono, Montoya made it two in a row Saturday at Watkins Glen International, the 2.45-mile road course that gave the Colombian driver the second of his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories.
With seven wins in prestigious Formula One racing, Montoya expects to run well at road courses, and on Saturday he did, winning the pole for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen in a track-record 69.438 seconds (127.020 mph).
The Coors Light pole award was Montoya’s second of the season, his first at Watkins Glen — in fact, his first on a road course at the Cup level — and the ninth of his career.
Montoya edged Kyle Busch (126.928 mph) by .05 seconds. Busch also broke the track record of 126.421 mph he set last year, as did third-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson (126.925 mph), fourth-place Brad Keselowski (126.626 mph), and fifth-place Marcos Ambrose (126.524 mph).
Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will start the 22nd Cup race of the season from positions six through 10, respectively.
“I think the lap was a pretty good lap,” Montoya said. “You always make mistakes here and there. It’s never perfect. You always think, ‘Oh, I went too far here, I went too little there, I lost it there’ — but I think everybody does.
“It’s about how well you can put it all together, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. I think (Sunday) in the race we’re going to have a decent car.”
Montoya saw the way Jeff Gordon catapulted from nowhere into a provisional wild-card position for the Chase for the Sprint Cup with last Sunday’s victory at Pocono and said the same might be possible for him, even though Montoya is 21st in the series standings with no victories.
“We’ve talked about it,” Montoya said. “Even if we don’t win (Sunday), we believe that, with the things we have found lately, maybe if we don’t have the fastest car there, but if we play the strategy right — it might come down to fuel or something — we might come into Richmond with a chance of making the Chase.
“It would be shocking, but it would be awesome.”
The top 110 drivers in the standings qualify for the Chase, along with the two drivers from positions 11-20 with the most victories. Montoya is 27 points behind 20th-place Jeff Burton and would have to improve at least one position to be eligible for a wild-card spot.
Busch posted the fastest time in Saturday morning’s practice but said he got loose in a couple of corners during his qualifying run. With a front-row starting position, Busch won’t be satisfied with anything less than a win.
Currently 15th in points with one victory, he needs at least one more win to feel comfortable about his Chase chances.
“For the next five (races), it’s win or bust, basically,” Busch said. “Finishing second or third or fourth isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
Series leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 16th.