Almirola was awarded the pole for the Camping World RV Sales 500 today when early-morning rain and wet track conditions bumped up against the day’s schedule and conspired to forced Talladega Superspeedway officials to scrap qualifying for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
The 29-year-old Floridian earned his second career Sprint Cup pole – both on superspeedways – based on his 202.000-mph hot lap in Friday’s first practice session. Marcos Ambrose, Almirola’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, will start third after a lap of 201.876.
Jeff Burton was awarded the outside poll after posting a top practice speed of 201.987.
The 1-3 start of Almirola and Ambrose provided the Petty garage a welcome diversion from Thursday’s announcement that Todd Parrott, Almirola’s crew chief, had been suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.
The speedway cars had been prepared for Talladega for several weeks.
“It certainly had some impact for sure,” Almirola said of Parrott’s suspension, “but of all weekends for something like that to happen, Talladega is a pretty easy one. … The cars are what they are. You just go out there and drive it.”
Sammy Johns, RPM’s vice president of operations and competition, will serve as Almirola’s crew chief on the No. 43 Ford until further notice.
Almirola and Johns have begun formulating “what’s best for us” for the remainder of the season, but the driver wasn’t prepared to disclose it Saturday. He said an announcement is likely next week.
In the meantime, Almirola reiterated his support for his crew chief.
“I said on Twitter Thursday Todd Parrott is a good person, he’s a good crew chief and he’s a good friend of mine,” Almirola said. “I think he’s got a lot of support and a lot of people rallying behind him to get through this difficult time.
“That being said, we’ve obviously got a job to do and we’ve got to go out and race and do what’s best for us, so we have to figure out a plan.”
The plan for qualifying was to go out with Ambrose in practice Friday and run the fastest lap possible in case the weatherman was right about rain falling on the track Saturday morning. About half the field already was on the track by the time their turn came up; for a time it didn’t like it would happen for them.
“Normally, the leaders slow down on the backstretch some and let everyone pile up together,” Ambrose said. “Our plan was to give ourselves a bit of room so we could draft into the pack, but as it worked out, the leaders really didn’t hang out too long, so we were strung right out.
“For the first lap and a half or so I thought we might have lost the draft completely, so you can put it down to a lot of talent, but it also was a lot of luck as well that got us in front.”
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the plan was Burton. He just went along for the ride and wound up qualifying second.
“I didn’t have a grand plan,” Burton said. “In the spring, I did, and I think we were 30th. (He finished 29th.) I didn’t have a grand plan, and we were second. It worked out well. I’m glad they had a plan.”
Series points leader Matt Kenseth will start 12th. His closest challenger in the standings, Jimmie Johnson, will start alongside him at 11th.
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.