TALLADEGA, Ala. — Aric Almirola has a fast car.
Turns out, he’s a pretty good weather forecaster, too.
Almirola claimed his second career pole Saturday when rain washed out qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, forcing the field to be set based on practice speeds.
Almirola and his teammate at Richard Petty Motorsports, Marcos Ambrose, both went out for Friday’s first practice thinking there was a decent chance of rain the following day.
So they hooked up in the draft with the idea of putting up a fast time. The strategy worked to perfection — Almirola posted a blistering lap of exactly 202 mph, Ambrose was third at 201.876, and the rain came on Saturday.
Jeff Burton will start from the outside of the front row based on a speed of 201.987.
“We knew there was a small chance for rain,” Almirola said. “We thought it would be a good idea to put up a good lap, just in case it did rain. We had a plan, we stuck to it and it worked out. Anytime you can start up front under any circumstances, that’s a good thing.”
Almirola’s only previous pole was for the 600-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2012.
He wound up finishing 16th.
NASCAR sent out its high-powered dryer in an attempt to get qualifying in, but the rain didn’t let up in time. A truck race was scheduled for the afternoon and there are no lights at the massive 2.66-mile trioval. Qualifying for the spring race at Talladega also was rained out.
Chase leader Matt Kenseth will start from the 12th spot. His closest challenger, Jimmie Johnson, got the 11th position. Sam Hornish Jr. was the only entry eliminated from the 43-car field.
Even though Almirola lucked into this pole position to some extent, it was still a bittersweet moment for a team still reeling from the loss of crew chief Todd Parrott. He was indefinitely suspended this week by NASCAR for violation of its substance-abuse policy.
“It was not something we expected by any means. It’s definitely something that caught us all off guard,” Almirola said. “Todd Parrott is a good person, a good crew chief and a good friend of mine. A lot of people are rallying around him to get through this difficult time. But we still have a job to do. We’ve got to go out and race and do the best we can.”
Burton is also looking for a strong performance in his farewell season at Richard Childress Racing.
He won’t return to the No. 31 car next year.
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t have more success,” Burton said. “(Childress) wants to win. I want to win. The next five races are about that. It’s not really very complicated. There are only a few chances left. We’re putting the same amount of effort into it and trying really hard to finish up strong.”