Juan Montoya's pole position last week at Pocono had shocked even the 36-year-old Colombian driver, but there was perhaps less surprise when he made it a double cause for celebration with pole this time around at Watkins Glen.
"This week we've genuinely been good all weekend," said Montoya, admitting the last week's pole had been a real out-of-the-blue 'how did that happen?' moment for the whole Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team, while lamenting that they had then missed the race set-up entirely for the Sunday. "I think this week we can contend," he continued, adding: "Having track position is a good thing because you can do it smart and see what it brings us."
After all, this is where the former F1 driver claimed his most recent NASCAR
Sprint Cup series, win two years ago. But despite his pedigree, it is actually Montoya's first pole position at a road course race in a stock car.
"I think the lap was a really good lap," he said. "You always make mistakes here and there. It's never perfect. You always think I went too far here, I went too little there, I lost it there, but I think everybody does. It's about how well you can put it all together. I thought we did a pretty good job of that
"We ran a little slower than practice, but with the sun out, it's like 20 degrees hotter," Montoya admitted. "You can always say I could have got a little more, but sometimes when you want a little more you actually lose."
Even so, Montoya's time of 69.438s (127.020mph) was a new track qualifying record, and left him 0.05s clear of Kyle Busch, last year's pole position winner. Busch had topped the Saturday morning practice session with a time of 69.199s, in a late addition to the weekend schedule after rain wreaked havoc on Friday and thwarted most of the track time, as Sprint Cup cars don't have rain tyres for wet weather running even at road courses.
"The #18 was really good during qualifying," said Busch. "It was really fast. I thought it was good and I thought it would be close to the pole. It was close, but it wasn't first."
Busch badly needs an outright win this weekend to put him back in with a chance of making the post-season Chase shoot-out via one of the "most wins" wildcards.
“For the next five or whatever it is, it's 'win or bust', basically," he admitted. "Finishing second or third or fourth isn't going to get us anywhere."