Sorenson wins pole and Montoya gives Ganassi front-row sweep
INDIANAPOLIS — Teammates Reed Sorenson and Juan Pablo Montoya swept the front row for Sunday’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, giving team owner Chip Ganassi another big day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 21-year-old Sorenson was fastest in practice Saturday and returned to the track hours later and backed it up with a lap of 184.207 mph that gave the budding NASCAR star his first Nextel Cup pole in his 58th try.
Cup rookie Montoya, who gave Ganassi a win in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and also ran six Formula One races at the speedway, came the closest to knocking his teammate off the top spot at 183.494. It was also his best qualifying effort in 21 Cup events.
Rain washed out both scheduled practices on Friday and delayed the 3-hour practice session on Saturday by several hours, also pushing qualifying from midmorning to late afternoon.
“The cars, just all three Ganassi cars, were just fast here all day,” said Sorenson, who added he was surprised to stay on top after drawing the second spot in the 49-car qualifying line.
“After I ran, I thought there would be a lot of cars faster than us when it got cooler later in the day. But this is a lot better car than we had last year.”
It’s an awesome place to get our first pole. I know it means a lot to Chip and everybody else involved.”
Ganassi, who was also co-owner of the car in which Emerson Fittipaldi won the Indy 500 in 1989, has seen his struggling NASCAR team show great improvement this season, led by Montoya, who last month gave the stock car team its first victory since 2002, winning on the road course in Sonoma.
Sorenson, the youngest driver in Cup and the youngest to win a pole in 14 years of stock car racing here, also gave the team, co-owned by Felix Sabates, a boost by winning a Busch Series race last week in Madison, Ill.
“We continue to work hard week in and week on a lot of things,” Ganassi said. “The guys back at the shop are doing a great job, but you still need drivers to push the button and these guys did that today. Now it’s just a matter of focusing on the race.”
Montoya said very little translates from his previous open-wheel races here to the stock cars, but he was very happy with the quick progress he and the team made despite little practice on the 2 1/2 -mile oval.
“You can see indications where the team is heading,” the Colombian driver said. “I’m sure there will be some more bad weekends, but it’s nice to show everybody what the team can do.”
Ryan Newman, who drives for 15-time Indy 500-winning owner Roger Penske, gave Dodge a sweep of the top three spots, followed by the Chevrolet of fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Dodges of Kasey Kahne and Newman’s teammate Kurt Busch.
Jeff Burton, last year’s pole-winner, was seventh in a Chevy, followed by Greg Biffle in the fastest Ford and 2004 pole winner Casey Mears and Denny Hamlin, both in Chevys.
David Stremme was 12th in the third Ganassi Dodge.
Last year’s race winner Jimmie Johnson qualified a disappointing 19th, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time Brickyard winner, was 21st.
“We really haven’t been as fast as we want to (be), but we know we have tonight to work on things with some good information to pull from our teammates,” said Johnson, whose teammates also include Mears and 18th-place Kyle Busch. “Last year, going into the race, we didn’t get a good night’s sleep because we didn’t think we were that close. We hit the right setup overnight and I also think I learned a little bit come race time.”
With the severely shortened practice schedule, NASCAR decided not to impound the cars after qualifying, instead allowing the teams to take them back to the garages to make any needed adjustments before Sunday’s race.
The rain also messed up the schedule for seven Cup drivers scheduled to drive in Saturday night’s Busch Series race at nearby O’Reilly Raceway Park. With Busch qualifying also set for late afternoon, the Cup drivers all had to rely on substitutes to qualify their Busch cars, meaning all of them, including Busch series points leader Carl Edwards, would have to start at the rear of the field at ORP.
Other former Indy winners in the 43-car field include Tony Stewart 14th, Kevin Harvick 20th, Bobby Labonte 29th, Bill Elliott 32nd and Ricky Rudd 37th.
Among the drivers who failed to qualify was two-time Brickyard winner Dale Jarrett.