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Allmendinger on pole for Penske at Kansas
21 April 2012
AJ Allmendinger claimed his first Sprint Cup pole position since his switch to Penske Racing to replace Kurt Busch at the start of the year, with a late qualifying lap of 30.683s (175.993mph) putting him 0.043s ahead of Kevin Harvick.
"I didn't think that the lap was amazing, it was okay," said Allmendinger after setting his time on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval. "When Todd [Gordon, crew chief] told me the lap time, I was shocked by it!"
Allmendinger said it was proof that the team was coming together after the upset of Busch's departure from the team over the close-season.
"Every step we're getting closer. Todd Gordon and I are gelling together as driver-crew chief. The whole team is gelling," he said. "More than anything, I just love being a part of this race team. I put a lot of pressure on my shoulders to go out there and win races, win poles for these guys, because they're so used to it."
Happy as he was with pole position, Allmendinger knew that it was only one stop on the way to real success - a race victory.
"The important day is tomorrow, but today we're the best. That's all that matters," he said. "To get a pole like this and get in the  Shootout and just keep building the momentum, it's a big deal today."
Starting alongside him on the front row, Kevin Harvick was ruing a small mistake that probably cost him the top spot.
"All in all I probably got a little excited getting into turn three and over drove the car a little bit. That probably, in hindsight cost us the pole," he said. "All in all it's been a great year qualifying wise for us so far. The cars have been fast every week. As soon as we put together the whole weekend without me making a mistake or things not going exactly right. I think everything is going to come together nicely."
The second row was a lock-out for the Joe Gibbs Racing team on Saturday, with Joey Logano setting the third fastest time alongside his team mate Denny Hamlin. However, an engine change will mean that Logano will be sent to the back before the green flag on Sunday afternoon; meanwhile the third member of the JGR stable, Kyle Busch, will start from a disappointing 25th place.
Mark Martin continued to revel in his part-time status in the Michael Waltrip Racing #55 car, starting from the third row alongside team mate Martin Truex Jr., with the third member of the MWR team Clint Bowyer on the fourth row alongside Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"We weren't very good in practice so we made a lot of changes to the car and the car drove really, really good in our qualifying run. So that was a personal victory for the team, I think," said Earnhardt, admitting that his qualifying form had initially been so poor that he'd had to crib notes off of Jimmie Johnson to get into shape for the session.
Johnson had topped both of the earlier Cup practice sessions but could only manage 15th place in qualifying himself.
Another of Johnson and Earnhardt's team mates, Kasey Kahne, together with Sam Hornish Jr. - making a rare Cup start in a third Penske car on an off-week for the Nationwide Series in which he competes as a regular - round out the top ten.
Allmendinger's pole is good news not only for the driver and his team but also for the beleaguered Dodge marque, who face difficult questions about their future in the series after Penske announced earlier this year that they were to return to Ford for their engines from 2013. Dodge is the last of the three engine manufacturers to make it to a pole position this season.
Ironically given Penske's decision to change engine providers, Kansas proved a terrible venue for Ford-powered cars on Saturday. The highest-placed Ford car was championship points leader Greg Biffle in 17th and Matt Kenseth alongside him in 18th; Carl Edwards and David Gilliland were next best in 21st and 22nd positions.
Josh Wise was the fastest qualifying rookie in 38th place. Tim Andrews, Jeff Green and Tony Raines were the three drivers who failed to qualify for the 43-car grid on speed at the end of the session.Full qualifying and practice times and positions