Richard Petty was, as he himself might say, one happy cat Thursday night after sweeping the front row in qualifying for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Richard Petty Motorsports drivers Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose qualified first and second for the 43-car starting field, with Almirola topping the speed charts with a lap at 192.940 mph.
|Almirola copped the Coke 600 pole|
After the sweep, Petty said that while he has put cars on the 600 pole in the past, Thursday’s performance was especially gratifying.
“I think I sat on the pole in 1961 because they ran 100-mile races and I won one of them,” he recalled. “It wasn’t speed, it was just that we won the race.
The 200-time NASCAR Cup Series winner said Almirola’s pole was a direct result of the effort expended by the No, 43 team and new crew chief Mike Ford. “There’s nobody that works any harder than our crowd,” he said. “It really makes me feel good that our guys have been working hard for a long time and finally got a little bit of recognition. Everything came together tonight with both cars and… it shows that what these guys have been doing has been right. We just haven’t had circumstances right.”
Petty called the front-row sweep “a confidence-builder (and) a big deal. We’ve got bragging rights for a couple of days here, so that makes all of us feel good.”
RPM competition Director Sammy Johns echoed those sentiments, saying, “The last time I saw (Richard) this giddy, I think, was in Victory Lane at Sonoma. It means a lot. It’s a pleasure to work for Richard Petty. He lets us do our job and like he tells us all the time, it’s our race team. It’s up to us to go out and get it done. So it means a lot to sit here next to Richard Petty and know we’re sitting on the front row for the Coca-Cola 600.”
|Petty was all smiles Thursday|
Almirola called his fast lap, “really awesome. To get my first pole right here in Charlotte, I get to drive home and sleep in my own bed tonight. That’s really cool.” He also lauded Ford’s efforts, saying this is the first weekend he has been able to put his mark on the team’s cars. “He came on at Talladega and we ran Darlington with what already was in the car,” said Almirola. “(When) we came here for the All-Star Race last weekend, he’s like, ‘I’m gonna step off the island this week. It may or may not work, but we didn’t run good enough last week for it to matter.’ We struggled last week, so we came (back) with something totally different and it’s paid off. We’ve got a really fast car.”
Ambrose, meanwhile, said the team’s front-row qualifying effort was an indication of better things to come.
“We’re a two-car independent team trying to take it to the big super teams. It’s just a great night for us (and)… our team really has it together. It’s a proud day for us and we’re looking forward to more things to come in the 600.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see the King smile in Victory Lane,” said Ambrose. “And that’s our goal. I’m proud to represent him and even prouder to run well for him, so it’s an honor to be a driver for him. He should feel good about what we did today, because a year and a half ago he singlehandedly saved this team and kept it alive. He’s still steering the ship for us and he’s here at the track.”
Ambrose did admit disappointment in not claiming the pole himself, joking, “Aric might be missing a toe by Sunday. I might have to stomp him on the foot because he pretty much took my first pole away from me. He got his out of the way and I’m still looking for mine, but it won’t be far away with the way we’re running right now.”
Petty said it doesn’t matter which RPM car succeeds, as long as the team performs well.
“I’m not pushing the 43 more than I’m pushing the 9 car; or even when we used to run the 44 (and) the 45 car. It didn’t make any difference as long as we were involved in some way, shape or form. It’s sort of like a Hendrick deal. If any of his cars win, he’s a winner and that’s the way I always looked at it.”
Photo Credits: Getty Images/NASCAR, SI.com