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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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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)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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David Ragan, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, drives in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, signs the Coors Light Pole board after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, poses with the Pole Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualifies in second position Friday, February 27, 2015 for a front row position start in Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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