Montoya wins pole at Watkins Glen
Juan Pablo Montoya prefers running up front, and it grates on him when he doesn’t.
For the second consecutive week, he has no reason to beat himself up going into the race.
Montoya shattered the Sprint Cup qualifying record at Watkins Glen International on Saturday. Montoya won the pole for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 with a lap around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout in 69.438 seconds at 127.020 mph.
Kyle Bush set the track record of 69.767 seconds at 126.421 mph a year ago.
"All my life I’ve raced to win," Montoya said after notching his second straight pole in the series and ninth of his career. "The last couple of years have been really frustrating."
Busch qualified second, also eclipsing the track record. Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.
Ryan Newman, five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 16th.
Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton were in backup cars after wrecking their primary rides in practice on Friday, victims of a track made slippery by Patrick Long’s blown engine. Hamlin was 23rd and Burton 31st.
Montoya won the pole last week at Pocono and finished 20th. He has only two top-10 finishes this season and three DNFs, one of the main reasons he’s 21st in the points.
Still, he isn’t about to concede with five races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"The only thing you can do is make sure you’re working the hardest you can," said Montoya, whose two Cup victories have come on the road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. "Maybe we still don’t have the fastest car, but if you can play the strategy right you might come up here with something and you might go on to Richmond (the last race before the postseason) with a chance of making the Chase. It would be shocking."
Ambrose won last year’s race, besting Busch and Keselowski in a fender-banging, green-white-checkered finish. Busch is desperate for a victory this time. He’s fallen out of the top 10 in points and a win would vault him back into contention for one of the two wild cards.
The top 10 drivers in the points automatically qualify for NASCAR’s version of a postseason. Chase positions 11 and 12 are wild cards and are awarded to those drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins.
Busch is tied with Gordon, Logano, and Newman with one victory apiece, but Gordon has one of the wild cards. Kasey Kahne, with two wins and 11th in points, has the other.
"For the next five races, it’s win or bust, basically," Busch said. "Finishing second, third or fourth ain’t going to get us anywhere."
Busch said three wins would lock up a spot and figures Gordon is his main rival.
"If we pass him back in points, that would get us back in the Chase," Busch said. "If he gets two and we’re in front of him in points with only one win, then he’s in and we’re out."
Johnson, dethroned last year by Tony Stewart after winning five straight championships, is intent on starting a new streak.
"With the overall points being as close as they are, it’s tough now," said Johnson, fourth in points but only eight behind Earnhardt, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. "I want to lead the championship going into the postseason. That’s my goal. But there will be some craziness during the race. We see that on road courses, period. If there’s a chance to take a risk, I think you’ll see a lot of it."