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NASCAR NEWS 

Aric Almirola leads Marcos Ambrose as Richard Petty's squad fills front row for Charlotte NASCAR race

Aric Almirola takes poleAric Almirola claimed his maiden NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole position as his team-mate Marcos Ambrose completed a front-row sweep for Richard Petty Motorsports in qualifying for Sunday's 600-mile race at Charlotte.

Cuban-American Almirola beat the previous benchmark set by last week's All-Star winner Jimmie Johnson, becoming the only driver to break the 28-second barrier with a lap of 27.988 seconds, at an average speed of 192.140 mph. His team-mate Ambrose, fastest earlier in the day during practice, was the last driver on track going for a flying lap and ended up a couple of tenths short of the leading RPM Ford.

"It's awesome to get my first pole here at home, at Charlotte," said 28-year old Almirola. "We came here for the All-Star race last weekend and we didn't run good enough, we just struggled. This week we came with something totally different and it's paid off, we've got a really fast car."

Almirola's pole for NASCAR's longest race is the 122nd for the #43 car, made a NASCAR icon by seven-time champion and current team-owner Richard Petty, who sat on pole for the same event back in 1966, bearing the same number. It is also the first pole for the team since race-winning crew chief Mike Ford joined last month.

Points leader Greg Biffle was fourth fastest ahead of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas of Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr, who rounded out the top five. Hendrick's Kasey Kahne and Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman were among those who had spells on provisional pole but their times were beaten as the session progressed and the track cooled down into the dusk.

Kurt Busch had been 14th fastest in practice but lost control of his Phoenix Racing Chevrolet on his first flying lap between Turns 1 and 2, and ended up hitting both the outside and inside walls, being forced to a back-up car for Sunday's race.

Danica Patrick, making her third Cup series outing, will start 40th thanks to her team's top-35 status in the owners' standings, as her lap alone would not have been quick enough to lock her in the 43-car field.

Wood Brothers' Trevor Bayne was the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers setting the 13th quickest lap, while Mike Bliss, David Reutimann, JJ Yeley and Scott Riggs failed to make the field.

Pos  Driver              Team/Car                     Time     Gap
 1.  Aric Almirola       Petty Ford                   27.988s
 2.  Marcos Ambrose      Petty Ford                   28.184s  + 0.196s
 3.  Jimmie Johnson      Hendrick Chevrolet           28.217s  + 0.229s
 4.  Greg Biffle         Roush Fenway Ford            28.234s  + 0.246s
 5.  Clint Bowyer        Waltrip Toyota               28.243s  + 0.255s
 6.  Mark Martin         Waltrip Toyota               28.247s  + 0.259s
 7.  Kasey Kahne         Hendrick Chevrolet           28.253s  + 0.265s
 8.  Denny Hamlin        Gibbs Toyota                 28.289s  + 0.301s
 9.  Paul Menard         Childress Chevrolet          28.332s  + 0.344s
10.  Regan Smith         Furniture Row Chevrolet      28.353s  + 0.365s
11.  AJ Allmendinger     Penske Dodge                 28.372s  + 0.384s
12.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Hendrick Chevrolet           28.376s  + 0.388s
13.  Trevor Bayne        Wood Brothers Ford           28.381s  + 0.393s
14.  Kevin Harvick       Childress Chevrolet          28.391s  + 0.403s
15.  Martin Truex Jr     Waltrip Toyota               28.392s  + 0.404s
16.  Ryan Newman         Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       28.413s  + 0.425s
17.  Kyle Busch          Gibbs Toyota                 28.416s  + 0.428s
18.  Landon Cassill      BK Toyota                    28.423s  + 0.435s
19.  Joey Logano         Gibbs Toyota                 28.465s  + 0.477s
20.  Matt Kenseth        Roush Fenway Ford            28.480s  + 0.492s
21.  Tony Stewart        Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       28.485s  + 0.497s
22.  Jeff Burton         Childress Chevrolet          28.493s  + 0.505s
23.  Jeff Gordon         Hendrick Chevrolet           28.560s  + 0.572s
24.  Brad Keselowski     Penske Dodge                 28.591s  + 0.603s
25.  Casey Mears         Germain Ford                 28.668s  + 0.680s
26.  Bobby Labonte       JTG Daugherty Toyota         28.671s  + 0.683s
27.  Cole Whitt          Turn One Chevrolet           28.674s  + 0.686s
28.  Carl Edwards        Roush Fenway Ford            28.692s  + 0.704s
29.  Juan Pablo Montoya  Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet  28.735s  + 0.747s
30.  David Ragan         Front Row Ford               28.776s  + 0.788s
31.  Jamie McMurray      Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet  28.796s  + 0.808s
32.  Michael McDowell    Parsons Ford                 28.802s  + 0.814s
33.  Josh Wise           Front Row Ford               28.837s  + 0.849s
34.  Stephen Leicht      Little Joe's Chevrolet       28.851s  + 0.863s
35.  David Stremme       Inception Toyota             29.010s  + 1.022s
36.  Dave Blaney         Baldwin Chevrolet            29.015s  + 1.027s
37.  Travis Kvapil       BK Toyota                    29.019s  + 1.031s
38.  Scott Speed         Leavine Family Ford          29.036s  + 1.048s
39.  David Gilliland     Front Row Ford               29.062s  + 1.074s
40.  Danica Patrick      Baldwin Chevrolet
41.  TJ Bell             FAS Lane Ford
42.  Kurt Busch          Phoenix Chevrolet
43.  Joe Nemechek        NEMCO Toyota                 29.066s  + 1.078s

Did not qualify:

     JJ Yeley            Robinson-Blakeney Toyota
     Mike Bliss          Humphrey Smith Toyota
     David Reutimann     BK Toyota
     Scott Riggs         R3 Chevrolet
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