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Almirola puts No. 43 back on pole in Charlotte

by Pete McCole
Thursday, May 24, 2012

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Aric Almirola

On one of the most prestigious weekends in all of motorsports, it seems fitting that an icon of the sport will see the car he made famous lead the field to the start of NASCAR’s longest Sprint Cup race.

Aric Almirola took Richard Petty’s famed no. 43 Ford Fusion to the top of the field in Thursday’s qualifying for Sunday’s 53rd annual Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to score his first career pole, while teammate Marcos Ambrose took the outside pole to give Richard Petty Motorsports a sweep of the front row.

Jimmie Johnson qualified third, followed by Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer.

Almirola’s pole-winning effort was the 156th pole all-time for a Petty-owned team and the third in the Coca Cola 600, the last one coming in 1966 with Richard Petty behind the wheel of the no. 43.

“That’s really awesome.  To get my first pole right here in Charlotte.  I get to drive home and go sleep in my own bed tonight.  That’s really cool,” said Almirola. “Mike Ford (crew chief) and all the guys on this Richard Petty Motorsports team did an awesome job.  Memorial Day Weekend with Air Force on the car, it’s really cool.”

Almirola outpaced the field by nearly a full second, running 192.940 mph in the no. 43 Air Force Ford Fusion to earn his first pole in his 47th-career series start. It is the first pole for Richard Petty Motorsports since Elliott Sadler took the top spot at Texas in November of 2010.

“It’s been a huge honor for me from day one to be able to come to this organization,” said Almirola, “not just to drive at Richard Petty Motorsports, I’m not just driving at Richard Petty Motorsports, I’m driving the 43 car – probably the most iconic car in the history of our sport – so for him to allow me to do that and for him to ask me to come and do that is just really special and it’s a huge honor to be able to put that 43 car back on top of the board.  To see it over there in Victory Lane and get our picture taken is really cool.”

It was a surprising and welcome success for one of NASCAR’s most storied teams, and one that nearly closed its doors after the 2008 season before merging with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2009 and bringing in an outside investment group to breathe new life into a team that once dominated the sport.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been up here,” said Petty as he addressed the media after winning the pole. “It really makes me feel good that our guys have been working hard for a long time and they finally got a little bit of recognition. 

“Everything came together tonight with both cars and it was just kind of a deal from my standpoint it shows that what these guys have been doing has been right, but we just haven’t had circumstances right.  Tonight, circumstances were right.  They had everything lined up and from that standpoint it’s a confidence-builder that they thought they were working hard and getting the job done, and all of a sudden they’re getting the job done.”

As the fastest driver is Thursday’s practice session, Ambrose was the last driver to take to the track and tried to run down his teammate looking for his own first career pole, but came up more than a mile-an-hour slower, turning in a lap of 191.598 mph to take second.

“My Ford was really hooked up, just not quite enough to get the pole, but we’ll take a front row,” said Ambrose, whose previous best start was a second at Martinsville in 2010. “If you’re gonna get beaten by anyone, I guess you want to be beaten by your teammate. What a great day for Richard Petty and Richard Petty Motorsports.  We’re a two-car team independent here trying to take it to the big super teams.  It’s just a great night for us.”

“Nothing would make me happier than to see the King smile in Victory Lane and that’s our goal.  I’m proud to represent him and even prouder to run well for him, so it’s an honor to be a driver for him and he should feel good about what we did today because a year-and-a-half ago he single-handedly saved this team and kept it alive and he’s still steering the ship for us and he’s here at the track.  He’s been here today and he’s just a great inspiration to have and someone to really feel good about running well for.”

Danica Patrick, trying to become only the second woman to run in the Coca Cola 600, qualified 40th for her third Sprint Cup start.

Kurt Busch brought out the only yellow flag of the session, losing the back end of his no. 51 Chevrolet coming through turn two and nosing it into the inside wall.

Mike Bliss, J.J. Yeley, Scott Riggs and former Coca Cola 600 winner David Reutimann failed to qualify for Sunday’s race.

Results

POS CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR SPEED TIME BEHIND
1 43 Aric Almirola Ford U.S. Air Force 192.940 27.988 Leader
2 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford DEWALT 191.598 28.184 -0.196
3 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's Patriotic 191.374 28.217 -0.229
4 16 Greg Biffle Ford Fastenal 191.259 28.234 -0.246
5 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 191.198 28.243 -0.255
6 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Armed Forces Foundation 191.171 28.247 -0.259
7 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Quaker State 191.130 28.253 -0.265
8 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Ground 190.887 28.289 -0.301
9 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards / Serta 190.597 28.332 -0.344
10 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing 190.456 28.353 -0.365
11 22 AJ Allmendinger Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 190.329 28.372 -0.384
12 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard 'An American Salute' / Diet Mountain Dew 190.302 28.376 -0.388
13 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 190.268 28.381 -0.393
14 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser Folds of Honor 190.201 28.391 -0.403
15 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 190.194 28.392 -0.404
16 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 190.054 28.413 -0.425
17 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Red, White & Blue 190.034 28.416 -0.428
18 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King Real Fruit Smoothies 189.987 28.423 -0.435
19 20 Joey Logano Toyota Dollar General 189.707 28.465 -0.477
20 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Fastenal 189.607 28.480 -0.492
21 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 189.574 28.485 -0.497
22 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Wheaties 189.520 28.493 -0.505
23 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 189.076 28.560 -0.572
24 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 188.871 28.591 -0.603
25 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 188.363 28.668 -0.680
26 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kingsford 188.344 28.671 -0.683
27 74 Cole Whitt Chevrolet Turn One Racing 188.324 28.674 -0.686
28 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal 188.206 28.692 -0.704
29 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 187.924 28.735 -0.747
30 34 David Ragan Ford Al's Liners / Scorpion Coatings 187.656 28.776 -0.788
31 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Arctic Cat 187.526 28.796 -0.808
32 98 Michael McDowell Ford Presbyterian Healthcare System 187.487 28.802 -0.814
33 26 Josh Wise* Ford MDS Transport 187.259 28.837 -0.849
34 33 Stephen Leicht* Chevrolet Little Joe's Autos / Precon 187.169 28.851 -0.863
35 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 186.143 29.010 -1.022
36 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet SealWrap 186.111 29.015 -1.027
37 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Dr Pepper 186.085 29.019 -1.031
38 195 Scott Speed Ford Jordan's Truck Sales 185.976 29.036 -1.048
39 38 David Gilliland Ford ModSpace 185.810 29.062 -1.074
40 10 Danica Patrick+ Chevrolet GoDaddy.com - - -
41 32 T.J. Bell+ Ford Green Smoke - - -
42 51 Kurt Busch+ Chevrolet Phoenix Construction Services - - -
43 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota Global Barter Corp / AM FM Energy Wood and Pellet Stoves / SWM Completion Tools 185.784 29.066 -1.078
DNQ 249 J.J. Yeley Toyota America Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents - - -
DNQ 119 Mike Bliss Toyota Humphrey Smith Racing - - -
DNQ 173 David Reutimann Toyota Burger King - - -
DNQ 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe - - -

+ Set by Owner Points
* Denotes Rookie

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