Stewart snares pole at Pocono
LONG POND, Pa. -- Tony Stewart unbuttoned the top button on his racing suit and let out a sigh.
Qualifying for the pole always makes a trip to Pocono Raceway more fun. Stewart zipped his No. 14 Chevy for a qualifying lap Friday of 171.393 mph around the 2.5-mile triangle track to start from the top for Sunday's Pennsylvania 500.
"Man, it felt good," Stewart said. "If you want a place where you want good track position, it's here at Pocono."
Juan Pablo Montoya will start second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race for an impressive follow-up to last week's pole start but disappointing 32nd-place finish at the Brickyard 400.
Denny Hamlin will start third as he tries to sweep both Pocono races. Hamlin won the Pocono 500 in June.
They'll both have to get past Stewart first, who's got a little experience with starting up front at the Tricky Triangle.
Stewart started the June race in sixth place, and finished third. He was awarded the pole at the two Pocono stops in 2009 after rainouts washed out qualifying.
This time, Stewart sped his way to the top. He said he felt good going around the first two turns before thinking he hit a rough spot around Turn 3.
"I felt like I might have lost a little bit of time there, but we got through there pretty good, too apparently. Better than I thought, I guess," Stewart said.
Good enough for his second pole of the season, the first coming at Texas Motor Speedway in April. Ninth in the points race, Stewart hopes to get a boost as the schedule draws closer to the Chase playoffs.
And to think, Stewart considers qualifying a "weak suit."
"The qualifying run for sure, I'm hoping is a glimmer of hope to what the rest of the weekend will hold for us," Stewart said. He's had first-place finishes at Pocono in 2009 and 2003.
Few others have had as much success at Pocono than Hamlin, who has turned the triangle into his personal playground. Besides the June victory, he also won the Pennsylvania 500 last year and both Pocono races in 2006.
He's slumped the last five weeks, finishing no higher than eighth in that stretch. Pocono could give his No. 11 Toyota team a spark for the season's stretch run as they try to climb from their third-place standing in driver points.
Earlier Friday, Hamlin acknowledged he had been fined by NASCAR for making critical comments about the racing series, but not even that touchy subject could dampen his day.
"No, not really," Hamlin said when asked if there was extra motivation because of the revelation about the fine. "Really, there's no relation either way."
Montoya, 22nd in points and out of contention, plans to use Pocono as a venue where his team "can try a lot of things."
After a disappointing outing last week, Montoya was asked if there were similarities between the Brickyard and Pocono, both 2.5-mile tracks.
"I haven't figured it out yet. Honestly, if there's anything similar between these two places I haven't seen them," said Montoya in typical entertaining fashion. "Honestly, this place is bumpy hell ... It's hard, it's unpredictable."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press