BROOKLYN, Mich. - The last time anyone was this fast in qualifying in NASCAR’s top series, Richard Petty was still driving.
He’s an owner now, but when Marcos Ambrose won the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway for Richard Petty Motorsports, the Hall of Famer was on hand to put the accomplishment in perspective.
Ambrose posted a speed of 203.241 miles per hour Saturday, the first time since 1987 the 200-m.p.h. mark was broken during Sprint Cup qualifying.
“I can’t hardly remember that far back,’’ Petty said. “To be able to do it on a flatter racetrack, not Daytona or Talladega, that is unheard of.’’
Ambrose made his first Sprint Cup pole a memorable one on a day when 19 drivers surpassed 200 m.p.h. on the newly paved surface.
Speeds have been soaring since drivers began testing sessions, and NASCAR decided to alter the left tires for the race, but that change didn’t affect qualifying.
The last pole winner to break 200 m.p.h. in this series was Bill Elliott at Talladega. Ambrose had the 11th-fastest pole-winning speed in series history.
“It’s going to sound great at the bar when you have had about six too many,’’ Ambrose cracked. “It is good bragging rights, I will give it that.’’
Ryan Newman’s track-qualifying record of 194.232 m.p.h. went by the wayside almost immediately. In fact, 40 drivers broke the mark, set in 2005.
Petty won a pole at MIS in 1972 - at 157.607 m.p.h.
“When they redid the track and came up here testing and said they were running over 200 m.p.h. it was blowing my mind,’’ Petty said.
“I think the last time we even flirted with that was when they redid Atlanta and we ran 198 or 199 m.p.h.
“We knew it was going to be quick, but I think it was a whole lot quicker than what we thought and definitely quicker than what Goodyear was thinking.’’
Goodyear changed its tire recommendation Friday night, saying the high speeds caused increased left-side tire temperatures.
Nobody is sure what to expect for the Quicken Loans 400. Drivers were allowed an extra practice session Saturday night after the tire switch was announced.
Kevin Harvick was second in qualifying. Greg Biffle, who ran a lap better than 204 m.p.h. Friday, was third.
“I am extremely happy with where I qualified,’’ said Biffle. “I just go into Turn One and bump Marcos out of the way. No, I am extremely happy, I just don’t know about this tire that we are going to.’’
Carl Edwards had other problems besides the new tires. He’ll start from the back after abandoning his qualifying run.
“I think it is a fuel issue,’’ Edwards said. “It almost feels like there is an air leak or something in the pickup for the fuel. It is running, but it acts like it is running out of fuel.’’
Points leader Matt Kenseth qualified sixth and Kurt Busch was 26th in his return from a one-week suspension for verbally abusing a media member.
Joey Logano, who qualified ninth, followed up his Sprint Cup victory at Pocono last weekend with a win on the Nationwide Series Saturday.
Logano held off James Buescher for his fifth Nationwide win of the year and 14th of his career. He has won four of the last five races in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.