LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Juan Pablo Montoya has found his groove at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Montoya turned a lap of 132.337 mph and won the pole in Friday's qualifying — the second straight time he'll start first at New Hampshire. Montoya won his first pole of the season after taking two last season.
Montoya is looking for his first career NASCAR win on an oval.
"We have been very close as a team to winning races," he said.
Starting first could help. He set a track record at New Hampshire last September to win the pole, and parlayed that into a third-place finish.
"I think last year we were too conservative here against Mark Martin, but it was the beginning of the Chase and we thought we needed to be very smart and take the points," Montoya said. "Right now, we are kind of in the same situation. We need a lot of points. We'll see what happens."
The former Formula One star made NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the first time last season. He's a disappointing 20th entering Sunday's race — 161 points out of the 12th and final place in the Chase field.
With 10 races left until the Chase field is set, Montoya believes he can still find a way to get the No. 42 Chevrolet into competing for a championship.
"We are miles ahead right now," of last year, he said. "We have more top-10s, more top fives. We have a much faster race car than what we had last year at this point. But we had a blown engine. We got together with our teammate. We've been involved in I don't know how many wrecks from other people."
Montoya has four top-fives and eight top 10s this year, only to have those finishes offset by six in the 30s.
Montoya laughed as he recalled his fast lap, which he thought wasn't enough to get him the pole.
"I got sideways and got on the gas and I thought they were going to kill me," he said. "I'm about to press the button and say, 'Sorry guys, I got loose,' and they say, good job. I'm like, 'Oh, thank you.'"
Martin held off Montoya on a three-lap sprint to the finish last year in the Chase opener for his fifth win of the season. Montoya accused Martin of holding him up at the start of the second lap.
Martin is in 11th place and trying to boost his spot in the standings as the summer heats up.
"We saw that we closed that gap some today and we're really looking forward to tomorrow to try to massage this thing a little bit more and maybe get a little more out of it," he said.
Kahne still has no news on where he'll drive next season. He signed with Hendrick Motorsports in April to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet in 2012, after Martin's contract expires. The deal called for Hendrick to find a place for Kahne next season while he waits for his seat to open.
"Hopefully, it's coming soon," he said.