Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Ambrose takes Sprint Cup pole

40 drivers top qualifying-speed record; restrictor plate won't be used in race


Marcos Ambrose had an average speed of 203.241 mph to take the pole for today's Sprint Cup race.

Associated Press Enlarge

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Is the focus on speed or is it on winning?

Without question, the two entities go hand in hand when it comes to auto racing, as a driver can't have one without the other.

But in preparation for today's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, there's been a focus on speed -- maybe too much of it during three days of Sprint Cup testing, practice, and qualifying on the two-mile oval.

During Saturday's qualifying for the Quicken Loans 400, 40 drivers bested Ryan Newman's track-qualifying record of 194.232 miles per hour, set June 19, 2005. Nineteen drivers went faster than 200.


Yet, Marcos Ambrose went the fastest.

Ambrose, who drives for Richard Petty Motorsports, won the pole for the Quicken Loans 400 with a qualifying speed of 203.241 in his Ford, 1.104 mph faster than Kevin Harvick.

"We threw down a lap and applied a good strategy," said Ambrose, who won his first pole in 134 Sprint Cup races. "We didn't throw down a lap in the first practice [Friday] so we could get an early draw, and it worked in our favor."

Ambrose had the fastest pole-qualifying time at a track other than Talladega Superspeedway or Daytona International Speedway, and when Petty was asked about the last time he recalled qualifying runs this fast, the stock car legend was stumped.

"I can't remember that far back, but to do it on a flatter race track, that's unheard of," Petty said.

Through the first two days of testing and practices at MIS, drivers took note of not only the record-setting speeds on the track but also the impact the track was having on the automobile, specifically on the tires.

NASCAR officials opted not to use restrictor plates for today's Quicken Loans 400 but after many tires were blistered during practice and testing on a repaved track, NASCAR and Goodyear announced late Friday night that cars will switch to sturdier left-side tires.

"This tire will be hard to drive," said Greg Biffle, who will start third today. "If the tire doesn't have as much side bite, sometimes it's harder to race side by side. But slower lap times make a little better of a race, sometimes."

Brad Keselowski, who will start 25th today, didn't have tire issues before today's race but supported the decision to go with more durable tires.

"We've got to have safety in the sport," Keselowski said. "Obviously, you'd like to get it right the first time, and that didn't happen. I'm [glad] there was a backup plan to keep it from being a bigger problem than what it is."

Entering today's Quicken Loans 400, Matt Kenseth leads the drivers points standings with 523, 10 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and 16 ahead of Greg Biffle.

Carl Edwards is currently 11th in driver points standings but is not in position for a wild card spot, as he has yet to win a race in 14 starts this season.

"The safest thing we can do is win races," said Edwards, who will start second-to-last in the 43-driver field. "We talked about it in the garage the other day. I think that is the best move. Just go out there and win. Maybe with five races to go and we still haven't won one, and we're on the bubble -- which I don't plan on being -- I plan on being way up there. Then we might have to say that we have to focus on the points. If there's a shot to go win it, we need to go with the race.

"It's like insurance, more so than to run easy and hope for points."

Still, the right speed will be key, as it is in any auto race.

"We're running 217 [mph] at the end of the straightaways here, so we're getting to speeds that I was running in the IRL," Tony Stewart said.

"The longer we're running these speeds, the slower it's starting to feel to us."

But Newman offered an explanation of the speeds that have been hit at MIS, and put it in context by equating it to flying in an airplane and hitting turbulence.

"I always said from 140 on up, it doesn't necessarily feel any faster until you hit a bump or something hits you or you hit a wall or a tire goes out," said Newman, whose Chevrolet reached 207 miles per hour during Friday's practice.

"We haven't hit that turbulence in a race car, maybe in a group, bouncing off each other as we do at times. So I don't know that it's too fast, but it is fast."

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