Almirola Leads All-Petty Front Row

Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola captured his first career pole in his 47th start. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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CONCORD, N.C. - Aric Almirola led a sweep of the front row for Richard Petty Motorsports when he scored his first career pole in qualifying for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Almirola went out 42nd in qualifying and was the only driver to post a time in the 27-second bracket, taking the top spot with a fast lap of 192.940 mph in the No. 43 Air Force Ford.

192.940 mph"That's really awesome to get my first pole right here in Charlotte," Almirola said. "I get to drive home and go to sleep in my own bed tonight. That's really cool.

"I want to thank Smithfield and all the people that support us. Memorial Day Weekend with Air Force on the car, it's really cool."

The pole was also the first since 2010 for crew chief Mike Ford, who joined RPM at the end of last month.

“I’ve got a short time working with these cars, but I came in for a couple weeks and observed and these cars have got speed," Ford said. "They’ve got a lot of speed to them and it took me a few weeks just to understand the approach of how to tune them. Last year all the Fords ran good at Charlotte and we came back with that type of setup.

The last time the No. 43 led the field to the green flag came in 2010 when AJ Allmendinger raced for RPM.

"This is a big deal," said owner Richard Petty. "We’ve got bragging rights for a couple of days here, so that makes all of us feel good.”

Marcos AmbroseAlmirola's teammate Marcos Ambrose, who topped the practice session earlier in the day, went out last and posted a lap of 191.598 mph for his first top-10 start in seven races at Charlotte.

"My DeWalt Ford was really hooked up, just not quite enough to get the pole, but we'll take the front row," Ambrose said. "If you are going to get beaten by anyone, I guess you want to be beaten by your teammate. It's a proud day and we are looking forward to more things to come in the 600."

The last time RPM swept the front row came at Kansas Speedway in 2010 with drivers Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard.

Last weekend's All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson qualified third with a lap of 191.374 mph.

“Just real proud of where our equipment is going," said Johnson, who is racing the same car he finished second with at Texas Motor Speedway. "I have been able always race better than I qualify. Our qualifying effort this year has been improving week in and week out. I can’t express enough how important that is on pit road and late in the race. It just opens up so many options for you on two versus four tires. Good in’s and out’s to your pit stalls. I’m very proud of the effort today."

Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.

Mark Martin, Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Menard and Regan Smith completed the first 10.

Danica Patrick posted the 43rd fastest time and will use an owner points provisional to start 40th in her first Coca-Cola 600 start.

“It just definitely felt loose, looser than in practice," Patrick said. "That is alright. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli) said ‘sorry we loosened you up’. I said, ‘ that’s fine it’s not like I crashed.’ Good news is we are in the 600, we just have to regroup and go out there and do a good job on Sunday night.”

Kurt Busch, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2010 with Penske Racing, will also use a provisional, to start 42nd, after he crashed his No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet on his qualifying attempt.

Four drivers failed to qualify for the race: Mike Bliss, David Reutimann, JJ Yeley and Scott Riggs.

The next on track action for the Sprint Cup Series will be Saturday with a pair of practice sessions.

Aric Almirola

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