Allmendinger takes maiden Cup pole

AJ Allmendinger claimed his first NASCAR pole position in qualifying for Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway

Allmendinger takes maiden Cup pole

In a session that was dominated by former open-wheel racers, the Champ Car race-winner made the most of the improving track conditions to set a laptime of 26.731s, at an average speed of 134.675mph, behind the wheel of his #43 Richard Petty Motorsport Ford.

"I know it might be minor, but it's a small victory for us," said the 28-year-old. "We've really struggled in qualifying so to get our first pole gets that monkey off our back. More importantly we get to see the green flag drop, lead it to the green and go to the front."

Allmendinger bumped fellow Californian Scott Speed from pole position by less than a tenth of a second after the Red Bull Toyota driver became the first to break into the 26-second bracket. Three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr was third fastest in his best qualifying showing of the season, also the Penske driver's best ever at Phoenix.

Marcos Ambrose was fourth fastest for JTG Daugherty, followed by Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr, while Juan Pablo Montoya followed in seventh after holding on to provisional pole before Speed became the first to bump him as the track cooled down.

Jeff Gordon, who had been fastest in the final practice was 10th in the end, while his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jimmie Johnson, a four-time winner at Phoenix, struggled with balance while power-sliding his car on corner exit to finish 16th on the grid.

Denny Hamlin showed good signs of recovery from his knee surgery nine days ago, setting the pace in the openning practice of the day, although he alternated behind the wheel of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Casey Mears, who remains on standby as his relief driver for tomorrow's race. Hamlin's car will start from 26th on the grid.

David Stremme, Aric Almirola, Mike Bliss and Brandon Ash failed to qualify.

Pos Driver Car Time Gap 1. AJ Allmendinger Ford 26.731s 2. Scott Speed Toyota 26.791s +0.060 3. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 26.826s +0.095 4. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 26.903s +0.172 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 26.938s +0.207 6. Joey Logano Toyota 26.981s +0.250 7. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 26.999s +0.268 8. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 27.008s +0.277 9. Carl Edwards Ford 27.016s +0.285 10. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 27.017s +0.286 11. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 27.024s +0.293 12. Michael McDowell Toyota 27.040s +0.309 13. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 27.042s +0.311 14. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 27.065s +0.334 15. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 27.073s +0.342 16. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 27.087s +0.356 17. Kyle Busch Toyota 27.090s +0.359 18. Joe Nemechek Toyota 27.094s +0.363 19. Kurt Busch Dodge 27.105s +0.374 20. Kasey Kahne Ford 27.110s +0.379 21. Brian Vickers Toyota 27.111s +0.380 22. Brad Keselowski Dodge 27.119s +0.388 23. Mark Martin Chevrolet 27.122s +0.391 24. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 27.125s +0.394 25. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 27.148s +0.417 26. Denny Hamlin Toyota 27.155s +0.424 27. Matt Kenseth Ford 27.169s +0.438 28. Regan Smith Chevrolet 27.182s +0.451 29. David Ragan Ford 27.206s +0.475 30. Greg Biffle Ford 27.211s +0.480 31. Dave Blaney Toyota 27.227s +0.496 32. Paul Menard Ford 27.239s +0.508 33. Robby Gordon Toyota 27.261s +0.530 34. Max Papis Toyota 27.276s +0.545 35. Scott Riggs Chevrolet 27.300s +0.569 36. David Gilliland Ford 27.308s +0.577 37. Johnny Sauter Chevrolet 27.357s +0.626 38. Terry Cook Dodge 27.362s +0.631 39. David Stremme Ford 27.392s +0.661 40. Elliott Sadler Ford 27.410s +0.679 41. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 27.470s +0.739 42. David Reutimann Toyota 27.540s +0.809 43. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 27.549s +0.818 44. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 27.669s +0.938 45. Travis Kvapil Ford 27.712s +0.981 46. Brandon Ash Dodge 27.948s +1.217 47. Kevin Conway Ford 28.226s +1.495 

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