Richard Petty Motorsports' Marcos Ambrose claimed his first pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with a new track qualifying record time of 35.426s (203.241mph).
“There is no I in team, and I am part of a great car to get this pole today," said a thrilled Ambrose afterwards. "We've had a great car from the moment we got here. We've gotten under some things that really helped my feel behind the wheel and allowed us to get better setups. We knew we had a good car going into today's session and I just needed to do the same thing I did yesterday at the end of the second practice."
When it was pointed out to him that this was the fastest pole position in the last 25 years of the Cup series, Ambrose laughed: “It is going to sound great at the bar when you have had about six too many!
"It is good bragging rights, I will give it that. I am really excited to get the speed and to claim to be the fastest guy out there. It is just awesome," he said. "This is my first pole in Sprint Cup and we have missed some by thousandths of a second and conditions changing. It is good that we actually got one to stick and one that has so many records attached to it - it is the fastest lap at Michigan ever, and everything you said.
"It felt that fast to me, too. It felt like I was getting it done. Really fun times out there," he added. "We were wide open for about 98 percent of the lap, and I felt very good about how we got the car dialed in to do that."
Ambrose beat Kevin Harvick for pole by just 0.211s, while Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne will start from behind them on the second row. Carl Edwards suffered an engine problem and was unable to set a qualifying lap, meaning that the #99 will start from the back of the field.
The build-up to qualifying at Michigan International Speedway had been an unusually eventful and even controversial one. Drivers got an extra day of practice coming into the two-mile oval, following the complete repaving of the oval since the series' last visit here, and drivers were immediately lightning fast.
NASCAR insisted that it wasn't worried about the record speeds attained by drivers in the practice sessions leading into Sunday's race, which saw several drivers top the 200mph mark on Thursday and Friday - the kind of benchmark that often has NASCAR worried about safety and start talking about restrictor plate racing. The previous NASCAR Sprint Cup track record coming into this weekend was 194.232mph.
"Time will take care of all of it. We're not concerned right now. We're confident in it," said NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton on Thursday. "The grooves will widen out and the pace will slow down."
"I think we are approaching some safety concerns at the speeds we are going," said a more worried Greg Biffle the same day. "We have to walk that fine line of not killing people and creating excitement," he said, also pointing out that "It makes it hard to race other cars at that speed" and can lead to processional races.
Teams also grew concerned with the level of blistering on the Goodyear tyres on Friday, leading the manufacturer to make the decision to bring in a harder-specification compound for the left tyres for the race and allow an additional practice period on Saturday.
“With the new repave here at Michigan, coupled with the high temperatures we're seeing this weekend, we feel this change will help us put on the best race possible on Sunday,” said Pemberton.
Full qualifying and practice times