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Ambrose wins pole for Quicken Loans 400, sets course record

By Mike Brudenell, Detroit Free Press –

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Marcos Ambrose uprooted his wife and kids on the Australian island state of Tasmania in 2005 to come race NASCAR in America.

It was a huge gamble for the road-racing specialist and two-time V8 Supercar champion.

In his seventh season in stock car, Ambrose showed Saturday that he belongs in the company of drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

Driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Ambrose grabbed the pole in his No. 9 Stanley Tools Ford for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 race at Michigan International Speedway with a historic, powerhouse lap.

On a repaved MIS, amid tire issues, Ambrose blasted around the 2-mile oval at 203.241 m.p.h., a track qualifying record and the 11th-fastest pole-winning speed in Cup history.

In posting the fastest Cup pole time in 25 years, Ambrose became the fourth driver to win a Cup pole with a lap of more than 200 m.p.h. and joined legendary drivers Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott in the elite group. It’s Ambrose’s first pole in 134 Sprint Cup races.

“It’s going to sound great in the bar when you have had about six (drinks) too many,” said Ambrose of smashing Ryan Newman’s MIS qualifying record of 194.232 and creating history in the Irish Hills with one of the mightiest runs ever in NASCAR. “It is good bragging rights, I will give it that. I am really excited to get the speed and to claim to be the fastest guy out there. It is just awesome. We have missed some poles.”

Ambrose is a Cup winner on road courses, taking the victory at Watkins Glen for Petty in 2011. Although he has been close on ovals, he has never won on them.

“We didn’t wander into this pole,” said Ambrose, who fought off challenges for the No. 1 starting spot at MIS on Saturday from Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing), who’ll start second Sunday at 202.037 in his Budweiser Chevrolet, and Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing), who was third fastest in qualifying at 201.816 in his No. 16 3M Ford.

“Our team has been running well all year, and this is a track I traditionally have not done well at. * We are the fastest team in NASCAR and we are proud of it,” Ambrose said.

When Ambrose entered the MIS media center for his post race conference, Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup champion and most successful driver in the history of the sport, was waiting. The pair chatted for a few minutes in the room.

“We are proud of Marcos and the guys for putting it together,” said Petty, who won 200 Cup races. “I was asking when the last time someone ran 200 m.p.h. — I can’t hardly remember that far back.”

Though drivers will start Sunday’s race on new left-side Goodyear tires, they qualified Saturday on the original sets provided by the manufacturer.

Those proved fast Saturday, despite blistering problems Friday. Forty drivers who qualified for Sunday’s Cup race posted a faster lap than Newman’s previous record, including Newman, who will start fifth after running 201.472 in his No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet.

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