Joe Jennings, NASCAR Correspondent
At Sonoma on Friday afternoon, Marcos Ambrose scrambled to the pole position for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 by ripping off a lap of 95.262 miles per hour around the 1.99-mile road course. He toured the twisting course in 75.203 seconds.
Sunday’s event will mark the 16th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The fleet Australian drove the Stanley Ford fielded by Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose earned his second career pole in 135 starts, and he did it for the second consecutive week, having gained the pole a week ago at the Michigan International Speedway.
I was more nervous going 90 mph (today) than I was last week at 200 mph.
“I am really thrilled for today,” Ambrose said. “We put a lot of effort into this race, as the whole Richard Petty Motorsports team has been rock-solid behind me with the road-course program. We brought a brand new hot rod for this race, and it is even better than the one we had here last year. This is only one lap and we have to do a lot more on Sunday.
“I was more nervous going 90 mph (today) than I was last week at 200 mph. You have to be very precise on your marks, be very aggressive and try to carry momentum through the corners.”
Added team owner Petty, “Winning this week was not as unexpected as last week was. I guess everything went good, but the big deal now is getting ready for the race. Winning here a couple of years ago means these (crew) guys know how to win here.” Kasey Kahne won for RPM in 2010.
Crew chief Todd Parrott praised Ambrose for his accomplishment. “What this man did today was incredible,” he said. “I was in awe of that lap. I have seen a lot of qualifying laps here and that was one of the smoothest and easiest looking laps I have ever seen.”
Five-time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon put the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet on the outside of the front row with a speed of 95.067 mph. Gordon topped all entrants during practice earlier in the day.
“I know we ended up second, but I was very pleased with the lap,” Gordon said. “I knew that Marcos (Ambrose) put down one heckuva lap, and it was going to be tough to beat. So I wasn’t going to allow myself to be so aggressive to shoot for the pole to where we could ruin a solid qualifying effort.
“I tried to attack in the areas where I thought the car had it in it and in others areas where I knew if I attacked I could go over the edge, I was making sure I didn’t do that. It was a very solid lap and the best lap I have had here in a number of years.”
Teammate Jimmie Johnson qualified third fastest at 94.795 miles per hour in the Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Said Johnson, “It was a decent lap time, but I left speed on the track in a few areas. We have been struggling with the car since we unloaded it. We felt like we had something good in the car and feel like there’s speed in the car. But the comfort is not quite there, and we were on edge the whole lap. I don’t want to drive 110 laps the way the car drove today. If we can build some comfort into it, we will be real good.”
Greg Biffle timed fourth fastest in the 3M/US Stationary Ford.
Toyota drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer Jr. earned the third-row starting positions with Kyle and Kurt Busch taking the fourth-row spots.
Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10 qualifiers.
Other notables and their qualifying positions were Juan Pablo Montoya 12th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th, reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart 24th and Kevin Harvick 26th.
Road racers Boris Said qualified 28th fastest and Robby Gordon 34th.
Forty-four cars took a qualification run with Brian Simo being the only driver failing to qualify.
TNT will telecast Sunday’s race, coming on the air at 3 p.m. ET.