For the first time since Bill Elliott sat on the pole at Talladega in July 1987 with a speed of 203.827, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has an average qualifying speed of over 200 MPH.
Marcos Ambrose of Launceston, Tasmania ran a lap of 35.43 seconds to win the pole for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at the Michigan International Speedway, the first top starting spot of his Sprint Cup career. More importantly, his average speed was 203.241 MPH. Ambrose joins Elliott, Cale Yarborough, and Benny Parsons as the only men in the record book with a pole speed above that magic mark of 200. Michigan now holds the distinction of being the fastest track outside of Daytona or Talladega.
The "Thunder from Down Under" beat out Kevin Harvick - who spun on his warmup lap before recovering to turn a lap of 202.037 MPH, Greg Biffle (201.816), Kasey Kahne (201.720), and Ryan Newman (201.427). Rounding out the top-10 were Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson.
The top-19 drivers all broke the 200 MPH barrier in their average speed. 20th-placed A.J. Allmendinger barely missed it at 199.944 MPH.
The reason for all the speed was the new repaving job on the 2-mile track. Testing lap times routinely topped 200, including a breathtaking 204.708 by Biffle at the end of Friday's second practice. The trade-off for speed was tire durability, as many drivers reported blistering of their left-side tires. Goodyear has flown in an entirely different, more durable left-side compound which the drivers will practice this evening after the NASCAR Nationwide Series 250-miler.
In all, Newman's old track record of 194.232 MPH was utterly demolished. The 40-fastest of the 45 drivers attempting to qualify all beat that mark.
Failing to qualify were David Stremme (one of the drivers who beat Newman's record) and Stacy Compton.
Carl Edwards' engine sputtered on his warmup lap and the car failed to gain much speed as he took the green flag to begin his qualifying run. Aborting the run, Edwards will start at the tail end of the field Sunday.