With dark clouds looming over the track, Juan Pablo Montoya decided it was time to go! Setting a new track qualifying record at a speed of 133.431 mph, he sits his No. 42 Target Chevrolet on the pole for the first race in the 2009 Chase. At a track where position is key, this will put the 11th-place driver in the perfect spot to add another top-10 finish, or better yet, a win, to his Chase bid.
Almost .20 seconds slower, Tony Stewart placed his Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy on the outside pole. After the Chase shuffled the points standings, Tony lost his 200-point lead to be set just 10 points behind Mark Martin. It’s clear Tony has every intention of regaining his lead in short order.
Chasers completed the top five of the starting order. Kurt Busch, who addressed the media earlier in the day with his crew chief Pat Tryson, laid down an identical lap to Stewart, giving up the outside pole based on the number of wins this year. Clearly, with the continuing support of his departing crew chief, Kurt is having no problem in staying focused on the job at hand.
Bobby Labonte, in his new ride for the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevy, lodged a very respectable lap of 28.888 seconds. If anybody was worried about this past champion after he was tossed out of the No. 96, don’t be. However, the fans in New Hampshire would like the No. 96 hauler repainted….
Kyle Busch just wanted to make sure we didn’t forget him. The non-Chaser No. 18 M&M’s Toyota is looking to spoil everybody’s fun with his ninth place qualifying run.
And rounding out the top 10 is Jeff Gordon in his black & grey National Guard Yellow Ribbon/Dupont Chevy paint scheme. Earlier in the day, Gordon sketched out his strategy for winning the Chase this year. It boiled down to two words. “Go fast.” Maybe overly simple, but he warned against overthinking the whole thing, as well.
Where did the rest of the Chase field qualify?
Other practice notes:
Joey Logano spent the race last September babbling in confusion on how to control the CoT beast. During opening practice today, the rookie spent time clearly communicating how his car was acting. Maybe he wasn’t the fastest on the track, but the learning curve is where the focus is with this team. A great way to try to master this quirky flat track. Winning in the rain doesn’t tell you how to stop the rear wheels from chattering.
AJ Allmendinger had a moment of panic as his No. 44 slid sideways out of turn 4. He reported problems of snapping loose on the exit.
On his final practice run, Martin reported he had just run a pair of good laps. The first one was good, the second was great. Unfortunately, I don’t think he found that perfect “great lap” during qualifying. Maybe he’ll rediscover that magic during Happy Hour on Saturday.