WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.–Marcos Ambrose took a giant step toward winning his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The only driver to exceed 128 mph in Saturday’s time trials at the 2.45-mile road course, Ambrose clocked a track-record 68.777 seconds (128.241 mph) to win his first Coors Light pole award at WGI and the third of his Cup career.
Ambrose, who has never finished worse than third in five races at the Glen, posted his record lap despite getting loose in the esses at the high-speed course. Clint Bowyer (127.958 mph) qualified second, followed by his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. (127.462 mph).
AJ Allmendinger, driving the No. 47 Toyota for JTG/Daugherty Racing, grabbed the fourth starting spot at 127.433 mph, with Kyle Busch (127.400 mph) completing a parade of evenly matched Camrys behind Ambrose’s No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
All told, 10 drivers broke the qualifying mark of 127.020 mph set last year by Juan Pablo Montoya, but Ambrose was the clear class of the field after his crew made effective adjustments to his Fusion following a less-than-satisfying second practice session on Friday afternoon.
“It was a great lap–it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the cleanest lap I could have done, but it certainly carried a lot of momentum, and it was enough to get the job done,” Ambrose said. “These new Gen-6 race cars are a lot faster around here, and the speeds are record speeds…
“I think this car really suits this race track. I think it’s more comfortable for the drivers to be aggressive… I’m looking forward to the race, and I think we have as good a chance as anybody to win and go three in a row.”
Bowyer has become a road-course prodigy of late, winning at Sonoma last year and finishing fourth in his last outing at the Glen.
“These road courses have become something I look forward to–I never thought I’d say that,” Bowyer said before confessing that his lap was fraught with tension. “Fear and being scared is a big part of that–just trying not to mess up, man. You’ve got one lap to get it all. Look how many opportunities you have to mess up out there.”
Bowyer didn’t make a mistake in the road course qualifying format, which featured eight different groups, ordered from slowest to fastest from speeds in Friday’s first practice. Though drivers had an opportunity to run more than one lap, most opted not to because the fall-off in grip after one lap was so pronounced.
The Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, which have been so dominant in the Cup series recently, had an off day in the time trials. Five-time champion and series leader Jimmie Johnson was the best of the lot in 18th, followed by Kasey Kahne (19th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (25th) and Jeff Gordon (28th).
Subbing for injured Tony Stewart, Max Papis qualified 29th in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet SS. Sixth-place starter Jamie McMurray has the top Chevy on the grid.