Juan Pablo Montoya has struggled for much of the season, but the former Formula One and CART star had a big morning on Saturday, winning the pole for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Montoya, who went out 16th, set the early pace when he qualified at 176.043 mph in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. But none of the cars that went after him were able to knock Montoya off, as he won his eighth career pole in 202 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts.

“It was a good lap, but our balance wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be,” said Montoya. “… I think it really shows the team is going in the right direction.”

Montoya comes into the race 21st in points, and despite a disappointing season to date, still has an outside shot to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup if he can win two of the next six races. It’s not likely, but it’s not impossible, either.

“We’ve been working so hard on understanding what this car needs and what direction the company needs to go,” said Montoya.

Expectant father Denny Hamlin, a four-time Pocono winner, qualified his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 175.795 mph, good enough for second on the grid.

Row 2 will be Paul Menard, who crashed in practice, but wheeled his No. 27 Richard Childress Racing backup car to a lap of 175.627 mph, along with Kasey Kahne in the first of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevys.

Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch qualified on Row 3, followed by Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson.

The only driver who failed to qualify was Stephen Leicht.

Earnhardt comes into the 21st race of the Sprint Cup season with a lead of 14 points over Kenseth and 22 over Greg Biffle. Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski each have three race victories.

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.