AVONDALE, Ariz. — A.J. Allmendinger finally has his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole. Making it even sweeter, he beat his old team to get the top spot at Phoenix International Raceway.
With a lap of 134.675 mph Friday in the Richard Petty-owned No. 43 Ford, Allemendinger took the pole away from Scott Speed, the driver who essentially replaced him at Red Bull Racing.
"I didn't even realize there was a Red Bull car on pole," Allmendinger said, before quickly telling the truth. "It wasn't really a surprise to see them up there, but anybody's that's been let go, you know what it's like to go out and beat your old team."
Allmendinger ran 38 races over two seasons for the Red Bull team before being let go late in 2008. He started last season with just enough sponsorshop to get through the first quarter of the Sprint Cup schedule with Richard Petty Motorsports, but had six top 10s and ended up running the full season and finished 24th in points.
After leading 11 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year, Allmendinger finished 32nd and has only one top 10 through the first six races. He is a disappointing 26th in the points standings.
"To get our first pole is exciting. It's a small victory, but it means so much to this team, especially to me," said Allmendinger, who is starting his 87th Cup race. "It's a big deal for the season. It's been difficult, but I know we're getting better each weekend."
Speed ran a lap of 134.373 mph in his Toyota, and Sam Hornish qualified third in the No. 77 Dodge. Marcus Ambrose was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the highest-qualifying Chevrolet in the fifth spot.
Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson, who has won four of the last five races at Phoenix, qualified 16th.
Denny Hamlin will start 26th in his first race since surgery March 31 to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. He will start the race, but Casey Mears is standing by to take over if needed during the 375-lap race on the oddly shaped mile track.
Speed, coming off consecutive finishes of 31st and 33rd, arrived in the desert with a clean-shaven head and a car he has nicknamed "Rattlesnake."
"I shaved all the black hair because that seemed to be bad luck," Speed said. "I also named our car, it's mean, sounds fast and we're in Phoenix. I'm not sure which one turned the luck around, but we'll keep doing all of them."