Montoya captures first pole

TALLADEGA, Ala. — It didn’t take Juan Pablo Montoya long to adapt to restrictor-plate racing. Now that he has enough horsepower, he could be in position to master the art at Talladega Superspeedway.

Montoya won the first pole of his NASCAR career Saturday, taking the top starting spot for today’s Aaron’s 499 to put himself in position for his first win on an oval. Since leaving Formula One in late 2006, the Colombian’s only wins have been on road courses.

“Is it going to make you the favorite to win the race? No,” Montoya said. “But we always run good here. The goal is to win the race.”

Montoya posted a lap at 188.171 mph, then had to wait almost two hours to see if his time would hold. He returned to his motor home for a snack and surfed the Internet as car after car failed to knock him from the top.

“It takes forever here. It’s one of those places that I sat outside for a little bit and then inside. And then you just wait,” he said.

Greg Biffle almost knocked him off the pole, posting a speed of 188.141 to qualify second.

“That’s all she had,” Biffle said. “You think about what you can do different. I feel like I did everything I could do to get everything I could out of the car.”

After his lap, Montoya figured teammate Martin Truex Jr. would be his toughest competition for the pole. But Truex’s lap at 187.971 mph was third.

Truex said Montoya, who finished second to Kyle Busch in this race a year ago, can contend for the win today. He made his stock-car debut at Talladega in an ARCA race in 2006 and never seemed to have the beginner struggles that other drivers seem to suffer through while adjusting to the nuances of using the draft in restrictor-plate races.

Now he should be even better. The offseason merger between Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. gave Montoya a strong Chevrolet engine, and he’s shown the field he has a good car.

“He’s had some great finishes, and I think he’s smart about the draft, and he’s calmed down since the first few races when he may have tried too hard all day,” Truex said. “He’s smart. We worked together at Daytona, and he made all the decisions I would have made when he was in front of me.”

Truex won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, and Montoya’s run gives Earnhardt Ganassi Racing poles in both restrictor-plate races so far this season.

Sam Hornish Jr. qualified fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth.

After the qualifying session was finished, NASCAR announced that Robby Gordon and Reed Sorenson failed inspection. Both their cars missed the minimum height requirement mandated by NASCAR, and their times were disallowed.

Montoya had the fastest car in October at Kansas, but his time was disqualified after his car failed inspection.

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