On Friday at Sonoma, Marcos Ambrose ran less than half his fast as he had last Saturday at Michigan -- but the result was the same. Touring the 1.99-mile road course in 75.203 seconds (95.262 mph), Ambrose won the pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, his second Coors Light pole award in as many weekends and the second of his career. Ambrose withstood a determined challenge from Jeff Gordon (95.067 mph), who, as the last driver to make a qualifying attempt, came up just short. Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, qualified third for the 16th NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at 94.795 mph. Greg Biffle (94.722 mph) was fourth, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (94.686 mph). Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, last year's winner Kurt Busch, series leader Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman will start from positions six through 10, respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr., last week's winner at Michigan and second in points, qualified 19th.
Ambrose won the pole at Michigan last week at 203.241 mph on a lightning-fast, repaved two-mile oval. "I think Kentucky next week is going to be about 175 miles per hour, so I'll be gunning for that as well," Ambrose quipped. "I'm just really thrilled today. We put a lot of effort into this race. We brought a brand new hot rod for this race -- better than the one we had here last year -- and I'm just thrilled that we can convert. It's only one lap. We've got to do a lot more on Sunday, but at least we can go home and say we had the fastest car. It was a good lap. I was more nervous, I think, running (95) miles an hour than I was running 200."
Gordon was ahead of Ambrose's pace until he reached the last two corners. "There are always places you can gain, and it's risk versus reward," Gordon said. "There are some places where you can lose, too. I felt like I was aggressive in areas where the car was comfortable in practice, and it was giving me signs and feedback that it had good grip. "I knew it was a better lap than what we had in practice, but I felt like there were some areas where I left a little bit. If you had to do it all over again, I'd love to take these segments and try to do them again, (but) all in all, I'm very happy." --/-- Brian Simo failed to make the 43-car field. (NASCAR Wire Service)
NASCAR Hotpass Lineup At Sonoma Raceway
NASCAR Hotpass on DirecTV is free to all DirecTV customers. Four dedicated driver channels offering viewers multiple camera angles, real-time statistics and audio of the network broadcast augmented by live communication between the drivers and their pit crews are available for all 36 point-paying races during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The NASCAR Hotpass llineup for the Toyota/SaveMart 350K in Sonoma, Calif., is as follows:
DIRECTV Channel 795: Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet team of Stewart-Haas Racing
DIRECTV Channel 796: Greg Biffle and the No. 16 3M – US Stationary Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing
DIRECTV Channel 797: Juan Pablo Montoya and the No. 42 Target Chevrolet team of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
DIRECTV Channel 798: Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota team of Michael Waltrip Racing
The Winless Steak Is Over, The Earnhardt Celebration Begins
At the same venue that produced his last NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, four years and two days removed from his most recent visit to Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke the most talked-about, most frustrating streak in motor sports. Pulling away from defending series champion Tony Stewart at the end of the final 60-lap green-flag run, Earnhardt won Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway by a dominating 5.393 seconds to end a drought of 143 races. "I know you guys have been waiting on that one," Earnhardt radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. "I know I have." As Earnhardt performed a wild celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, fans and crew members crowded around Victory Lane as the crowd in the grandstands stood and cheered. The victory was the 19th in the Cup series for Earnhardt, who solidified second place in the Cup standings, closing to four points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who ran third Sunday behind Earnhardt and Stewart.
Earnhardt overcame Goodyear's 11th-hour switch to a harder left-side tire, after blistering became an issue on the left sides originally supplied for the race. Earnhardt wasn't happy with the handling of his No. 88 Chevrolet during a extra practice Saturday night, but crew chief Steve Letarte found a combination that worked for the race. Greg Biffle finished fourth, followed by five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who started from the rear of the field because of an engine change before the race but worked his way back into the top five. Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. Earnhardt took the lead for the first time on Lap 70, when he passed Ambrose for the top spot. From that point on, his was the dominant car; Earnhardt led a race-high 95 laps. "Winning races is all you ever want," Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. "You work real hard to get there, and I've got to thank (team owner) Rick Hendrick, the whole organization, really, for sticking with me. They could have picked another route, but they stuck with me, and we're back in Victory Lane. I appreciate everybody's support -- Rick, the company, the fans, my team -- everybody."
The start of the race was delayed for nearly two hours by rain, but by the time NASCAR's most popular driver took the checkered flag, the track was bathed in sunshine. About the only blight on the landscape was Tony Stewart's response to Earnhardt's long-awaited victory. Apparently tired of questions about Earnhardt's winless streak, Stewart resorted to sarcasm. "It's no different than anybody else that does it -- it's not a national holiday, guys," Stewart said. "This morning they were celebrating the fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we're all in a state of mourning now, 'cause he's broke that string now, so I wonder what we're all supposed to think."
Kenseth, Earnhardt's longtime friend, was more gracious in his assessment of the breakthrough victory. "This year you could see it going to be a matter of time," Kenseth said. "They've really been the guys -- that 88 has had a ton of speed. They haven't always gotten the finishes (because of) circumstances, but they've been battling up there in the top five each and every week. They've finished every lap. I'm really happy for him to get that win. The championship part, I think they're definitely a contender. They've been right up there in the mix each and every race, no matter what size or shape the racetrack. I think they're definitely, at this point in the season, one of the favorites."
Joey Logano Continues His Roll With Nationwide Win At Michigan
The roll continued for Joey Logano, who fought off a determined bid from James Buescher to win Saturday's Alliance Truck Parts 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway. After a restart with four laps left, Logano crossed the finish line .208 seconds ahead of runner-up Buescher to claim his fifth victory in 11 Nationwide starts this season and the 14th of his career. The win was the first for Toyota in the Nationwide Series at Michigan. Kurt Busch came home third, followed by Cole Whitt and pole-sitter Austin Dillon. Buescher chased Logano for three laps after the final restart and made his move in Turn 1 on the white-flag lap, powering to the inside of Logano's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry. But Buescher couldn't make the pass stick, and Logano pulled away.
"Racing there with James at the end was a lot of fun," Logano said. "I knew exactly what he was doing the whole time, laying back there and trying to make that run on the last lap. I knew he was going to slide it down into 1, and I felt like, as long as I had position on him, I could pin him down enough to get a big enough lead off the corner. He did exactly what I thought he was going to do, and I was able to work my game plan and come out ahead enough to win the race."
For Logano, the victory was yet another case of capitalizing on a chance to win and extending his remarkable success rate. "I've had a lot of confidence in myself lately, in my abilities, knowing what I can do with the race car," Logano said. "I feel like I'm feeding my crew chiefs the best information, and they're doing the best jobs they can do to make the best race cars for me. There hasn't been an opportunity we've let slip up yet. We've been in position to win races, and we've capitalized every time we've been in that position."
NASCAR red-flagged the race on Lap 119 after the cars of Josh Richards and Jamie Dick wrecked in Turn 3. Dick's car caught fire, but both drivers escaped. So did Richards' car, which rolled driverless down the banking and came to a stop in the infield grass. After a stoppage of eight minutes, 46 seconds, the field took the green flag on Lap 122 of 125. Logano and Buescher quickly made it a two-driver race. The win comes six days after Logano picked up his second career Cup victory, at Pocono. Danica Patrick finished 18th in an up-and-down race that saw her involved in three of the seven cautions. Series leader Elliott Sadler ran 11th, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr., second in the standings entering the race, had a miserable time with handling problems and came home 25th. Dillon moved into second place, eight points behind Sadler. Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion, fell to third in points, 27 behind the series leader. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Marcos Ambrose Shatters Michigan Track Record
Australian Marcos Ambrose has a new distinction -- he's the fastest thing in a NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car in 25 years. With a record-setting run Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Ambrose won the pole for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, leading 18 other drivers who broke the 200-mph barrier and 38 others who topped Ryan Newman's previous track record of 194.232 mph, set in 2005. Ambrose claimed the first Coors Light pole award of his career with a lap at 203.241 mph (35.426 seconds), beating second-place qualifier Kevin Harvick (202.037 mph) by .211 seconds. But Ambrose didn't have long to enjoy it.
Because of tire blistering at high speeds during testing and practice on Thursday and Friday, Goodyear had mandated change to a harder left-side tire after qualifying. Cup teams were set to practice on the new tires late Saturday afternoon in preparation for Sunday's race. Greg Biffle, whose top practice speed on Friday was a series-best 204.708 mph, qualified third on Saturday at 201.816 mph. Kasey Kahne (201.720 mph) and Newman (201.472 mph) completed the top five. Series leader Matt Kenseth will start sixth on Sunday after a lap at 201.461 mph. Ambrose's lap was the fastest run in the series since Bill Elliott posted 203.827 mph at Talladega in 1987, the last year the series ran at Daytona and Talladega without restrictor plates. It was the fastest lap ever run at a speedway other and Daytona and Talladega and the 11th-fastest in series history.
Ambrose is the fourth driver to win a pole at a speed in excess of 200 mph, joining Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott. "It is good bragging right -- I'll give it that," Ambrose said. "I'm just really excited to get the speed, and to claim to be the fastest guy out there is just awesome. We've missed some poles -- this is my first pole in Sprint Cup -- we've missed some by thousandths of a second and conditions changing, so it's good that we actually got one to stick, and one that's got so many records attached to it. "It felt that fast to me, too. It felt like I was getting it done. Really fun times out there. When you get onto the frontstretch, and you gain about 100 RPM in a mile, you know that you got everything you could out of the corner. We were wide open for about 98 percent of the lap, and I felt very good about how we got the car dialed in to do that."
Notes: Dale Earnhardt Jr., second in the series standings, will start 17th on Sunday. David Stremme and Stacy Compton failed to make the 43-car field. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Goodyear To Make Tire Change For Sunday’s Race At Michigan
Goodyear will make a tire change for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. The decision was made Friday evening after teams had tires that were blistering following Friday’s practice sessions at the newly-repaved 2.0-mile track. Goodyear will bring a tougher left side tire from Charlotte that the teams will use in Sunday’s event. The teams will qualify Saturday as scheduled at 1:10 p.m. ET with the tires previously allotted by Goodyear. Following the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the teams will be given a 75-minute practice session with the new left side tires that will start at approximately 6 p.m. “With the new repave here at Michigan, coupled with the high temperatures we’re seeing this weekend, we feel this change will help us put on the best race possible on Sunday,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. (NASCAR PR)