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Almirola leads RPM front row at Charlotte

Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose locked out the front row for Richard Petty Motorsports for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Aric Almirola claimed his first pole in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Thursday night, with a qualifying lap of 27.988s (192.940mph) putting him just ahead of his Richard Petty Motorsports team mate Marcos Ambrose on the front row for the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest Sprint Cup Series race of the calendar.

“We struggled last week at Darlington, and we went with something totally different – we stepped off the island, and it paid off,” beamed Almirola. "A great day for Richard Petty and Richard Petty Motorsports. We're a two-car team trying to make it against bigger teams. It was a great night for us."

Almirola's time on the 1.5-mile oval Charlotte Motor Speedway was just 0.04s outside of the Cup record for the track, posted by Elliott Sadler in 2005. It is the sixth career pole for RPM as a team and the first of the season, and only the second time in the team's history that it has locked out the front row of a Cup race starting grid - the previous time being at Kansas in the autumn of 2010.

A car number strongly associated with Richard Petty as a driver, the last time the #43 started the Coca-Cola 600 from pole was in Petty's hands in 1966. The last time the #43 went to victory lane was with John Andretti at the wheel in April 1999. Not lacking any confidence now as an owner, Petty indicated the winner's podium and told the media, "We'll see you Sunday night."

Petty continued, “Even though it's just qualifying, it's still a big deal for us,” adding: "We've got bragging rights for a couple of days, anyway!"

Almirola was thrilled to have delivered on the #43's legacy so soon after joining the team, following AJ Allmendinger's off-season decision to leave the team - which came close to folding just 18 months previously - to join Penske.

"It's been a huge honour for me from day one to be able to come to this organisation," said Almirola. "Not just driving for Richard Petty Motorsports - I'm driving the 43 car, probably the most iconic car in the history of our sport."

Almirola's pole is also a triumph for his new crew chief Mike Ford, who has just signed up with the team after being let go by Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last season after several years of running Denny Hamlin's #11 car, where he was displaced by Darian Grubb.

"I came in for a couple of weeks and observed, and these cars have got speed," said Ford. "It took me a couple weeks to just understand the approach of how to tune them ... We know that we've got the balance right, and the car's got speed and Aric's comfortable driving it, so he can go get the speed."




Related Pictures

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Kurt Busch after spinning the #51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet in qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford, poses after qualifying for the pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finished in fifth place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 21, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Both Johnson and Harvick are in the Chase which continues in next week`s Challenger 16 race. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Belkin/Wemo Chevrolet SS finished in fourth place and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finished in fifth place Sunday, September 21, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Johnson is in the Chase which continues in next week`s Challenger 16 race. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 21, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ty Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying first for the NASCAR Nationwide Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS qualified for eleventh position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Earnhardt, Jr. is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS qualified for sixth position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Johnson is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet SS qualified for third position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Harvick is in the Chase which continues with the Challenger 16 for this and next week`s race. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Belkin/Wemo Chevrolet SS qualified for second position September 19, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates setting the pole position during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, speaks at a press conference following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Toyota, smiles at Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate a Driver Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Will Schneekloth/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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