Juan Pablo Montoya and the power of the Earnhardt-Childress engine alliance proved an unbeatable combination Saturday, as the Colombian streaked to pole position for the Aaron's 449 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Montoya turned the second of two qualifying laps in the #42 Chevrolet in 50.890secs, edging Ford driver Greg Biffle by a scant 0.008secs. The pole is the first in NASCAR Cup competition for former F1 frontrunner Montoya, who qualified first at last year's race at Kansas Speedway, only to have his time was disallowed after inspectors found that his rear shock absorbers exceeded the maximum allowable gas pressure.

Montoya was the 16th driver to make a qualifying attempt at the 2.66-mile Talladega superspeedway, and had to wait nearly two hours for the session to conclude.

"I went back to the motorhome, sat down, had a drink, had something to eat and just watched," Montoya said, "It takes forever here. It's one of those places.... I sat outside for a little bit, then inside, and you just wait.

"It's not like you're antsy or anything, but it's like 'can we sit down and have lunch?'. No, you've got to wait, because, if you're on the pole, you've got to go and do this, you've got to do that -- but it's cool.... There's been two restrictor-plate races and, in both of them, an Earnhardt Ganassi car has been on the pole. Hopefully, we can translate (that) into a win here."

Biffle said he got everything possible out of his car during the qualifying lap.

"Absolutely," he said, "That's all she had. We were eight-thousandths of a second different from the #42. You think about what you could have done different. You're just careful about how you turn the steering wheel down in the corner, not to bind the car up and slow it down. I felt like I did everything I could to get all I could out of the car."

Martin Truex Jr, Montoya's Daytona pole-winning team-mate at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, will start third, next to Sam Hornish Jr, as the line-up showed an unfamiliar look at the front. Clint Bowyer claimed the fifth starting spot, edging Regan Smith, the fastest of the drivers required to qualify on speed.

Smith was first to the chequered flag in last October's Talladega race, but was denied the victory and demoted to 18th for passing Tony Stewart below the yellow line separating the racing surface from the apron as the cars approached the finish line. Stewart was declared the winner.

Mark Martin, who claimed his first victory in a Hendrick Motorsports car last Saturday at Phoenix, will start seventh, followed by rookies Scott Speed and Brad Keselowski, and David Ragan.

The times of Robby Gordon and another Montoya team-mate Reed Sorenson were disallowed Saturday when their cars failed to meet NASCAR's height requirements. Both drivers will start from the rear Sunday - although Sorenson already had been relegated to that position for changing engines after Saturday's final Cup practice. Michael McDowell and Eric McClure failed to qualify for the race.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service


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