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Montoya, team ready to roll from the Talladega pole

- dpoole@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Apr. 25, 2009

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Juan Pablo Montoya knows that what he did Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway might not have much to do with what happens to him Sunday in the Aaron's 499.

But he's willing to take things one day at a time.

Montoya got the job done in qualifying, running a lap at 188.171 mph to earn his first career Sprint Cup pole and, at least for 24 hours, a reason for him and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team to smile.

"What it really helps is to build momentum for the team," Montoya said. "I think that everybody that works on this team is sitting at home right now, probably having a beer or something, and they are enjoying themselves. I think that goes a long way.

"...We're working to get wins. We're working to get poles, to get noticed, get in to the Chase and be a contender. We're doing that."

Montoya came to Alabama on most short lists of favorites to do well in Sunday's second restrictor-plate race of the Sprint Cup season. He finished second here last spring and was leading the fall race when he got caught up in a wreck not of his doing. Having the fastest car in qualifying only increases the focus on the No. 42 Chevrolet.

"This is one of those race tracks where you really don't even want to qualify because you never know what's going to happen," Montoya said.

What happened was that Montoya went out very early and posted his lap. He paid close attention until teammate Martin Truex Jr. ran his lap, which came in at 187.791 mph, then turned his attention to looking at some wind-surfing gear on the Internet.

Qualifying takes so long at this 2.66-mile track, Montoya could have probably ordered something and had it delivered before he knew he'd won the pole.

While Montoya was distracting himself, he missed the closest challenge he'd get in qualifying as Greg Biffle put his Ford on the outside of Row 1 with a lap at 188.141 mph, pushing Truex back to the third spot.

Biffle is taking this weekend one step at a time.

"The last time we had a restrictor-plate car this good was 2004 at the Daytona 500," Biffle said. "We've got a really fast car and an opportunity to run up front and stay up front. ...But, certainly, restrictor-plate race at Talladega, it truly doesn't matter where you start at this race track.

"... We've seen guys go from the back to the front here with only a few laps to go, but it certainly says we have a competitive car and if I can keep it up front all day, I think we have an opportunity to get a top-five finish."

But if anybody knows how hard Talladega can be on your hopes, it's Biffle. He has failed to finish five of the past six races here after being caught up in the kind of wrecks this track is infamous for.

"I don't think there's a safe spot," Biffle said. "If you're out there on the race track, you're vulnerable. It doesn't matter if you're leading or not. You just try and do the best you can pick the right people to draft with and try and stay in a good line and just pay attention. That's about all you can do."

Montoya can't wait.

"I really enjoy the restrictor-plate racing," he said. "I really get a kick out of it, having everybody so close together.

"It is not about who has the fastest car. It is about putting yourself in the right position, getting the right runs, doing the right stuff always goes a long way."

Sam Hornish Jr. posted his Cup career-best qualifying effort with a fourth-fastest lap at 187.953 mph. Clint Bowyer will start fifth with Regan Smith, fastest among those who had to make the race based on qualifying speed, sixth. Mark Martin, last week's winner at Phoenix, will be on Row 4 with rookie Scott Speed.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 11th with Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon 14th.

Jimmie Johnson, teammate to Martin, Earnhardt and Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports, was only 36th fastest in his Chevrolet.

Michael McDowell and Eric McClure failed to make the race.

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