Ambrose wins Sprint Cup pole at Watkins Glen

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Two-time defending Watkins Glen winner Marcos Ambrose snatched the pole for tomorrow’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, coming out of the final group of qualifiers to take the honor with a track-record lap of 68.777 seconds in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.

The next-to-last qualifying group, Group 7, appeared to have made the biggest impact on Saturday morning as Clint Bowyer, A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Busch took the top three overall spots with their laps before Ambrose got his opportunity. But the Launceston, Tasmania native was able to vault over them all and claim his third career Sprint Cup pole.

“I got really loose up through the esses there and came very close to the outside wall coming out of Turn 3, Turn 4, and that got me out of the groove,” Ambrose said to ESPN after his run. “But my guys did a great job – I lost my cool yesterday in practice, because I felt I was behind and we made some great changes coming into today’s qualifying.

“I gotta thank [crew chief] Drew Blickensderfer and all the team at Stanley and Richard Petty Motorsports. They did a great job giving me just the car I needed, and I’m very proud of our day.”

As for Bowyer, who has evolved into a stout road racer himself, he was forced to settle for the outside front row with his lap of 68.929 seconds in the No. 15 “Duck Dynasty”-backed Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

“These road courses have become something that I look forward to,” he told ESPN. “I never would’ve thought I would ever say that. But we’re certainly having fun. We’ve got a good group.

“[Crew chief] Brian Pattie built a really good race car, he’s had a lot of success here and won a lot of races here. I told him, ‘I was gonna be heavy, you’re gonna have to carry me this weekend,’ and he’s been doing a pretty good job of carrying me so far.”

Martin Truex Jr., who is looking to sweep the road courses in 2013 after winning earlier this year at Sonoma, will roll off from the inside of Row 2 tomorrow alongside Allmendinger, who fell to fourth on the grid. Row 3 features Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray, followed by Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski in Row 4, and Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth in Row 5.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”