Marcos Ambrose looks strong, but ...


By Ngozi Ekeledo

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. ( K. Lee Davis / ) -- Marcos Ambrose rolled to the third Sprint Cup pole of his career Saturday at Watkins Glen International, and now he'll line up in front for what he hopes will be his third straight victory in the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes region of the Empire State.

Could it all be just as easy as that?

He doesn't think so, and there are plenty of other drivers who have shown the speed to win here Sunday in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (coverage begins at noon ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).

Ambrose even admitted to blowing up after Friday's final practice when he didn't think his Richard Petty Motorsports team was getting enough out of the car. It was something for which he apologized to his team later.

"Yeah, I actually lost my cool yesterday afternoon and we made some changes because I just didn't quite feel like we were good enough," he said. "The boys did a good job of listening to my rants and managed to calm me back down for today, so I'm really excited for the race.

"I think we've got one of the best race cars out there. I was a little worried about our qualifying form, so we've got that out of the way and we can really focus now on getting our car ready for the race, and we've got a real chance to go three in a row here."

Eight drivers broke the track record in qualifying. It was the 12th time this season the new Gen-6 car has set a track record in qualifying, and that isn't a surprise to any of the drivers.

"This new Gen-6 race car is a lot faster for us, especially on road races," Ambrose said. "It's got more downforce, it's lighter, and those two factors really help a lot -- the center of gravity is lower -- so all of those are good things for a race car to go fast.

Clint Bowyer is one of the drivers vying to beat Ambrose, and he'll start second Sunday. He fully expected Ambrose to take the pole. Why? He said it's about who makes the fewest mistakes on road course qualifying laps, or who recovers best from the mistakes made.

"Do you have any idea how many opportunities there are out there to screw up?" Bowyer said. "[A qualifying lap here] is so hard to do.

"To come that close to Marcos Ambrose -- who should be on the pole -- is really, really cool."

"The fact that our cars have been really good at both [Watkins Glen and Sonoma] is just a testament to the hard work that's been put in," he said. "You know, I've never really qualified here that well -- I've raced well -- but, based on the speed we had yesterday in race trim, this is definitely a big step for us. ...

"We did exactly what we wanted to do, and [we're] very happy about that lap and excited about the race."

Not all of Sunday's potential contenders could find speed Saturday, and a lot of drivers vying to make the Chase have to be nervous.

Brad Keselowski, who will roll off eighth, sits in 12th place in the standings but is winless. He was in last year's amazing duel to the finish with Ambrose, so he knows how to get up front here.

Kurt Busch is one spot behind Keselowski in the standings and also searching for a win. Both of them are within easy striking distance of the top 10 -- especially with 11th-place Tony Stewart likely to miss multiple races -- but both would feel much more secure with a victory on the résumé.

The Hendrick Motorsports power foursome of Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon qualified 18th, 19th, 25th and 28th, respectively.

"It didn't go as planned," Johnson said. "It was a lot harder to get around the track than I expected from what we had yesterday."

Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne are all but locks for the Chase, but Gordon in ninth has to fend off the pack lining up behind him in the standings.

If last year is any indication, the race will be an exciting one, but the new car might make a key difference this time around.

Brakes have always been an issue at Watkins Glen, but the new package in the Gen-6 car is allowing drivers to brake later, which should mean less wear and tear. But Bowyer still reminded everyone that the real wild card comes after every caution.

"I think you're going to see all hell break loose on the restarts," he said, eyes widening for effect. "It will get crazy."

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