Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Juan Pablo Montoya went out early in his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet during pole qualifying at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on Saturday for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and turned a 51.124-second lap to claim his first pole in more than a year and the eighth of his career.
"This is huge for us," Montoya said of his improving race team. "We really needed this."
Denny Hamlin qualified second with a 51.196-second lap in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and Paul Menard was third after posting a qualifying time of 51.245 seconds in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Drivers who went out fairly early in the qualifying session seemed to have the upper hand, claiming provisional spots near the front and staying there throughout qualifying, even though cars that went out later were faster in the first practice session on Friday, something Montoya credited to strategy.
"We didn't make a qualifying run in first practice to make sure we went out early (in qualifying)," he said.
Montoya was among the first 10 drivers to make qualifying attempts and knocked previous provisional pole sitter Kurt Busch, in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, from atop the scoring pylon. Busch didn't get shuffled back all that far, though, as he wound up sixth by the end of the session.
"This is worse than driving the car," Montoya said of the long wait to find out if he'd really end up as the pole sitter.
Hamlin also went out somewhat early, shortly after Montoya, to claim the provisional second spot and held on to the other front row starting position through the remainder of qualifying.
Just ahead of Busch on the starting grid Sunday will be Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford of Marcos Ambrose.
Qualifying seventh through 10th were Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Ryan Newman in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Forty-four drivers made qualifying attempts. Stephen Leicht in the No. 33 Circle Sport Chevrolet failed to make the race.