Buoyed by setting the fastest Sprint Cup pole position in a quarter of a century last week at Michigan International Speedway, Marcos Ambrose showed that it was no fluke as he made the most of a rare road course outing for the series at Sonoma, California to claim his second consecutive pole.

"I am really thrilled for today," said Ambrose, who made his name in Australian V8 sportscars before moving to the US to take up the challenge of NASCAR. "I put a lot of effort into this race and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports and the whole Stanley team have been rock solid behind me for the road course program.

"I am glad we could convert the effort into a great result," he added. "It is only one lap and we have to do a lot more on Sunday but at least we can go home and say we had the fastest car."

Compared to last week's over-200mph laps at the repaved Michigan oval, the speeds at Sonoma were under half that - but no less demanding on the cars and drivers all the same.

"I was more nervous running 90mph than I was running 200," he admitted. "You just have to be really precise with your marks and very aggressive and carry momentum through these tight corners."

Ambrose's crew chief Todd Parrott was positively gushing in his praise of his driver's performance in qualifying on Friday afternoon.

"I think what this man did today was incredible," he said. "I sat there on pit wall and watched the Sprint Vision and was in awe of that lap. It was just incredible. I have seen a lot of qualifying laps here but that was one of the smoothest, easiest looking laps I have ever seen. I am really proud of him."

Car owner Richard Petty, on the other hand, was characterisically more down to earth about the whole endeavour and not getting carried away - especially as the team has performed well at Sonoma before only to lose the race win opportunity.

"Winning this week was not as unexpected as what last week was," he said. "I tried to tell him and I didn't want to put any pressure on him for when he did come out here. I guess everything went good. Anytime you can sit on the pole it is good but the big deal now is getting ready for the race.

"I think we won the race here with Richard Petty Motorsports a couple, three years ago, so some of the guys know how to win here also. We have a driver we think that gave one of them away out here so it is time he got one back for us!"

Ambrose's qualifying lap was 75.203s (95.262mph) on the 1.99-mile road course was 0.154s faster than that of Jeff Gordon and was a new qualifying record for the NASCAR-configuration of the raceway.

"I was very pleased with the lap," said Gordon of his own effort, which was the last qualifying run of anyone on Friday. "It was a very solid lap, the best lap I've had here in a number of years and I'm very pleased.

"I know we got second ... Marcos put down one heck of a lap and that was going to be tough to beat," he admitted. "I wasn't going to allow myself to be reeled in too much to try to get so aggressive to shoot for the pole to where we ruined a good, solid qualifying effort. So I tried to attack areas that I felt the car had it in it, and showed that in practice, and the car stuck; and other areas where I felt like if I attacked I could go over the edge. I was making sure that I didn't do that."

Gordon's lap ended up clocked at 75.357s, 0.154s off Ambrose's time but still ahead of Gordon's own team mate Jimmie Johnson who claimed third place and will start Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 race on the second row of the grid alongside Greg Biffle.

The third row was an all-Michael Waltrip Racing affair, with Martin truex Jr. just pipping his team mate Clint Bowyer for the better spot, while behind them on the fourth row it was a Busch family reunion with Kyle Busch starting alongside his older brother Kurt.

Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman round out the top ten, with Carl Edwards just outside in 11th and due to start the race alongside Juan Montoya, himself something of a road course specialist after his years in F1 and a previous Sonoma winner back in 2007.

"It was okay," said the Colombian. "It was really good the first part of the lap. We just got too loose in the fast corners; the last two right-handers, I was just way too loose. But it was fun.

"I lost a lot of time where I got sideways," he admitted. "Where you should be wide-open I'm half-throttle, drifting. And drifting is not fast!"

Last week's race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was back down to earth somewhat, not a natural road racer and not able to match the performances of his Hendrick team mates on Friday as he qualified down in 19th.

"We had a little more speed than that for qualifying - the car was pretty comfortable, I think I was too conservative with my driving," he admitted. "It never helps when you spin out the run before the last run of practice, that knocks some time out of you! We felt we've got good speed. I want to make the car quite a bit more comfortable than it is."

Fortunately, Earnhardt has some time in practice to dial in the car more to liking, with two practice sessions scheduled for Saturday afternoon before the race itself on Sunday.

The Cup drivers largely have the place to themselves this weekend, as their Nationwide counterparts are having an altogether different road course outing with the staging of the Sargento 200 over at Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Jacques Villeneuve led first practice and Max Papis topped the second session, with Nelson Piquet Jr. featuring in the top three in both. Former IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. is also competing, as is the famously road course-averse Danica Patrick - but who seems to missing the challenge and looking forward to the opportunity to return to her racing roots this season.

Nationwide qualifying and the race take place later on Saturday.

Full Sprint Cup qualifying and Friday practice times available.



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