Marcos Ambrose, center, celebrates with his crew Saturday after winning the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. (AP Photo)
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — When rain cut short Sprint Cup practice at Watkins Glen International and he struggled to find balance in his car, Marcos Ambrose blasted his team in the garage.
“I did lose my cool,” Ambrose said. “I didn’t feel like we made enough progress for the race and for qualifying. I just didn’t think it was feeling right. I just didn’t quite feel like we were good enough.”
He is now.
Ambrose shattered the Cup track record on Saturday to win the pole for the Cheez-It 355 on Sunday, turning a fast lap of 128.241 mph in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports to easily eclipse the mark of 127.020 set a year ago by Juan Pablo Montoya. It was the 12th track record set this year in qualifying for the new Gen-6 car.
For Ambrose, it was his third career pole and first at The Glen as he seeks his third straight victory at the historic road course in upstate New York.
“It’s a very special moment for me. They did a good job to calm me down and not overreact to what I was saying, and it worked out really well,” Ambrose said of his crew. “We were catching up all day yesterday.
“This has not been the best qualifying track for me,” Ambrose said. “I’m proud of today. Getting the pole was awesome. The car felt great. I think that bodes really well for tomorrow. If we can keep this form down, I think that our car will be good for the race, and when you have track position, that’s going to help us a lot.”
Clint Bowyer qualified second and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. was third, followed by AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Busch.
Max Papis, subbing for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14, qualified 29th. Stewart, who has a Cup-record five wins at Watkins Glen, is sidelined with a broken right leg suffered Monday in a sprint car race in Iowa.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, in the hunt for a berth in the Chase for the championship, qualified eighth and Chase contender Kurt Busch 13th.
Hendrick Motorsports struggled. Jimmie Johnson was 18th, Kasey Kahne 19th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 25th and Jeff Gordon 28th.
Ambrose won the past two races at Watkins Glen with some good fortune, besting Keselowski and Kyle Busch twice in a pair of stunning finishes. He started fifth in 2011 behind Kyle Busch, who won the pole, and was third off the grid last year behind pole-winner Montoya.
“It just helps our situation,” Ambrose said. “The last two years I’ve come back through the field. We’ve had luck on our side. I was doing it the hard way. This year, if you have a good day, you can be in control longer. We’re very focused on staying in front.”
Gordon and Mark Martin are the only drivers to win three straight at Watkins Glen, and they did it in the 1990s.
Under NASCAR’s new road-course qualifying, the drivers were split into eight groups of five or six cars based on practice speeds from Friday, and NASCAR sent them onto the track five seconds apart. The drivers had five minutes to post a fast lap.
Truex won at Sonoma in June after starting 14th to snap a 218-race winless streak and Bowyer held off Gordon to win at Sonoma last year.
“On the track yesterday, we were faster than he (Ambrose) was, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” Truex said. “Track conditions are going to be a lot different tomorrow than they were yesterday in practice. I feel like we can have a great day tomorrow with the speed that we’ve had in our cars all weekend long.”
Truex made long runs in practice to see what effect that had on the brakes. Racing around the high-speed, 2.45-mile layout can take a toll on the stopping power that is so critical at the end of the 90-lap event.
“These races are all about getting to the end, taking care of your stuff, having something to brake with at the end,” Truex said. “A lot can happen with strategy. All that stuff has to work out. I certainly won’t be trying to take the lead in the first corner or say I’m going to lead the first lap. That would be pretty idiotic.”