Montoya earns pole for Fontana race
After a series of so-so qualifying runs the first four weeks of the season, Juan Pablo Montoya found something at Fontana, earning the pole for his 150th career NASCAR race.
So what changed? Don’t ask him.
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” Montoya said on Friday after hitting 184.653 mph on the 2-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway. “There was a lot less grip in qualifying than there was early in practice, so I don’t know.”
Montoya hasn’t qualified particularly well — his best was 13th at Daytona — but has been good when the green drops for the race with two top-10 finishes, including a third at Las Vegas.
He’s been decent at Fontana in the past, too, qualifying fifth or better while leading laps in each of the past four races there, finishing third at the fall race in 2009.
The former Formula One driver will be seeking his first NASCAR win on an oval after winning his first two career races on road courses.
He’ll start Sunday’s 400-mile race on the front row with Denny Hamlin, with Joey Logano and Regan Smith right behind them.
“I think we’ve got a decent car,” Montoya said. “We always run good here, but the main thing is that we’re in good position for the points and we have to take advantage of that.”
Montoya and the rest of the field had to play a bit of a guessing game after a series of storms, including one that lasted into Friday morning, pushed practice back two hours and trimmed it down to about 45 minutes.
Even after track workers used a saw to cut notches in the concrete for drainage, the track still had a few wet spots seep up, which Kyle Busch blamed for his wreck on his first lap.
Ryan Newman also complained about the water and Jimmie Johnson had to do some nice maneuvering to save a big bobble, though no other cars went into the wall.
The short practice session made it kind of dicey for qualifying, though Hamlin didn’t seem to mind. He’s struggled qualifying this season and had his worst day last week at Bristol, starting 25th and moving backward from there for a back-in-the-pack 33rd.
“It was probably good for me, as bad as I am in qualifying,” said Hamlin, who was about a half-second behind Montoya. “The least amount of practice everyone else has is better off in my favor.”
Busch qualified eighth in his backup car.