Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Almirola relishes first Cup pole; Ambrose has best Charlotte qualifying effort
Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose paired up during qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday to claim both front row starting spots for Richard Petty Motorsports for the Coca-Cola 600 to be run at the track on Sunday. Almirola claimed the pole with a 27.988-second lap in the No. 43 RPM Dodge to claim the first pole of his Sprint Cup career in 47 tries.
"It's really special to get my first pole at Charlotte," Almirola said.
He was so impressed by his lap that he wasn't really concerned all that much with it holding up for the pole.
It's really special to get my first pole at Charlotte.
"It means a lot," Almirola said soon after climbing out of his car. "Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports works really hard. I hope it sticks, but it doesn't matter."
Ambrose went out last in the qualifying session and put up a 28.184-second lap in the No. 9 RPM Dodge, good enough for the second starting spot. It was Ambrose's best-ever qualifying effort at the track.
Jimmie Johnson qualified third with a lap time of 28.217 in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for his 19th top-10 start at CMS.
"I got about 90 percent there," Johnson said. "Three and four felt really great. I went in (one and two) really committed, but didn't have the grip I thought I'd have."
When Johnson made his qualifying run, he knocked HMS teammate Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet off the provisional pole. At that time, Chevrolet laid claim the provisional top-five starting spots, with Johnson first, Kahne second, the No. 27 Richard Childress Chevrolet of Paul Menard third, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet of Regan Smith fourth and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth.
By the end of qualifying, though, Johnson was the only Chevrolet driver still standing in the top-five. Kahne was the second-fastest by the end of qualifying in sixth.
While several Chevrolet drivers spent time near the top of the scoring pylon early on in the qualifying session, Kurt Busch wasn't one of them. His No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet spun during his qualifying lap, backed into the outside wall and then slid down the track banking and made significant contact with the inside wall. Busch still made his way into the race on owner points.
Greg Biffle claimed the fourth starting spot to start his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford next to Johnson on the second row with a lap time of 28.234 seconds.
Michael Waltrip Racing claimed the entire third row, with Clint Bowyer earning the fifth spot with a 28.243-second lap in the No. 15 MWR Toyota, and Mark Martin taking sixth in the No. 55 Toyota with a lap time of 28.247 seconds.
"Got through one and two really good and then gave up too much in three and four," Bowyer said. "It's just one of those things."
A.J. Allmendinger had the fastest Dodge in qualifying. He posted a 28.372- second lap in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge to qualify 11th.
"We've just got to keep working on it," Allmendinger said. "The car is not bad. It's got a lot of speed in it, obviously. You kind of get spoiled last week with our Dodge being so good, so we've got to keep working on it."
Forty-seven drivers made qualifying attempts for the 43 available spots on the starting grid. Drivers failing to qualify their way into Sunday's race include Mike Bliss, David Reutimann, J.J. Yeley and Scott Riggs.