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Petty drivers Almirola, Ambrose on front row for Charlotte

5:54 PM, May 24, 2012   |    comments
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Concord, NC (Sports Network) - Aric Almirola claimed his first pole in the Sprint Cup Series, while his teammate, Marcos Ambrose, qualified second to give Richard Petty Motorsports the front starting row for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Almirola, who is in his first full season in NASCAR's premier series, posted a lap at 192.940 mph during Thursday's qualifying session at Charlotte. His maiden pole came in his 47th career Sprint Cup start. This will be the first time Almirola competes in Cup race at this 1.5-mile racetrack.

"It's really awesome to get my first pole right here at Charlotte," he said. "I get to drive home and stay in my own bed tonight. That's really cool. [Crew chief] Mike Ford and all of the guys on this Richard Petty Motorsports team did an awesome job."

Almirola is the eighth different driver to win his inaugural pole in Cup at Charlotte.

Last month, team owner Richard Petty made a crew chief change with Almirola's No. 43 team, as Mike Ford replaced Greg Erwin. Ford, who had most recently served as Denny Hamlin's crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, began his new role with Petty earlier this month at Talladega Superspeedway.

Ambrose, who drives the No. 9 Ford for RPM, earned the outside pole with a lap at 191.598 mph. Ambrose was fastest in practice earlier in the day and therefore the last driver to qualify in the 47-car field.

"This is great for "The King" [Petty], locking up the front row for the 600," Ambrose said. "This is one of the oldest racetracks to go to, and "The King" is still here, and he's still supporting us and looking over our shoulders. Congratulations to Aric on a great qualifying lap. The [car] was great out there, just not good enough for the pole. But I'll take a front row any day."

Jimmie Johnson, who won last Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte, held the provisional pole until Almirola topped him for the position. Johnson will start third in his attempt to become the first driver to win both Cup events at Charlotte during the month of May twice in his career. He won the Charlotte double in 2003.

"I just didn't have the grip that I was hoping for," Johnson said of his qualifying run. "Our cars have been very fast the past couple of weeks, and we hope to keep things going."

Greg Biffle, the current points leader, qualified fourth, followed by Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne, who will make his 300th career start in the series.

Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Regan Smith completed the top-10.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second in last year's Coca-Cola 600, qualified 12th, two positions better than defending race winner Kevin Harvick.

Danica Patrick, making her third start in the series, was awarded the 40th starting position via owner points. Patrick had a disappointing qualifying lap at 185.179 mph. Her No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing team is currently 34th in owner points. The top-35 in points are guaranteed a starting position for a race.

Kurt Busch wrecked during his qualifying run and therefore will start from the rear of the field in a backup car. Busch got loose in turn two and then spun around before the front end of his car slammed into the inside retaining wall.

Mike Bliss, David Reutimann, J.J. Yeley and Scott Riggs failed to qualify.

The 600-mile race -- the longest of the season in NASCAR -- is scheduled to start just after 6 p.m. (ET).

The Sports Network

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