Juan Pablo Montoya’s contribution to the NASCAR highlight reel so far this season was his crash into a jet dryer in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Montoya finally had a bright spot that didn’t involve explosions and raging fuel fires.
He turned a lap of 176.043 mph Saturday to win the pole at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
Montoya won his first pole since April 2011 in Richmond, Va. He hasn’t won a race since Aug. 8, 2010, at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
The pole was a needed lift for Montoya and his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team. He’s 21st in the standings and has yet to drive to a top-five finish.
Montoya admitted he was “shocked” he beat out Pocono qualifying stars such as Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne to lead the field in today’s 400- mile race.
“We know we’re working in the right direction, we know we’re working hard, we feel the cars are getting a little better,” Montoya said, “but to go out there and get a pole … I just went through the hauler and all the engineers, they’re all happy and laughing. I’m used to long faces, a lot of long faces, a lot of stressful faces. We needed something like this as a company. This is big for us.”
Hamlin turned a lap of 175.795 and qualified second. It’s his 12th top-10 start in 14 career Pocono races.
Paul Menard, Kahne and Marcos Ambrose round out the top five.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts eighth.
Montoya has four career top 10s, including one runner-up finish in 2009, in 11 career starts at Pocono. He is the 15th different pole winner in 21 races this year.
“If you told me this morning I was going to be sitting on the pole, I’d say, ‘pfff,’ ” he said. “I thought we were going to be OK. I thought we’d be 12-15. And we’re sitting on the pole.”
Elliott Sadler won the NASCAR Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway in Newton, denying Ricky Stenhouse Jr. a fourth consecutive victory at the track. Danica Patrick finished 11th. … Will Power captured his third pole of the season, holding off Dario Franchitti at the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Power completed the 2.25-mile, 13-turn layout in 1 minute, 5.6474 seconds. … Joey Coulter sped from third to first off the final restart to win for the first time in the Trucks Series at Pocono Raceway. … Chad Hackenbracht led the final 12 laps for his first win in 42 career starts at an ARCA race at Pocono Raceway. ... Chase Austin, 22, was selected to be the driver for A.J. Foyt Racing at the 2013 Indianapolis 500. If he qualifies, Austin will be the third African-American driver to compete in the Indy 500.