WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Marcos Ambrose was blunt as he contemplated the twists and turns of Watkins Glen International.
"I don't know much about what's going to happen, but I do know that I've got Tony Stewart covered," said Ambrose, who has won the past two Cup races at the track in upstate New York. "I don't think he'll be a challenge this weekend."
Stewart likely would have been a factor. He has a Sprint Cup-record five victories at the Glen, the last coming four years ago. But Stewart is out indefinitely with a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash six days ago. He will be replaced in the No. 14 Chevrolet by Max Papis for today's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
On Saturday, Ambrose shattered the Cup track record to win the pole, turning a lap of 128.241 mph in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports and eclipsing the 127.020 set a year ago by Juan Pablo Montoya. It was the 12th track record set this year in qualifying with the new Gen-6 car. Clint Bowyer qualified second, points leader Jimmie Johnson was 18th and Papis 29th.
For Ambrose, it was his third career pole but his first at the Glen, where, in five starts, he has an average finish of second. "I come here, and all of a sudden it's like you're expected to win," he said.
With only five races to go before the Chase for the Championship and the points standings so tight for the final four spots in the 12-driver field, a late caution will create a frantic finish.
Brad Keselowski, the reigning Cup champion, is 12th, just nine points behind Greg Biffle in 10th, but he does not have a victory. In his rearview mirror are winless Kurt Busch, Sonoma winner Martin Truex and Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman. All will gain something because of Stewart's absence.
"The things that happened to Tony don't change anything that I was going to do," said Newman, who won at Indianapolis and finished fourth at Pocono in the past two weeks. "It just changes the potential of what we (Stewart-Haas Racing) can get done from a wild-card standpoint."
Truex won at Sonoma, another road course, in June after starting 14th to end a 218-race winless streak. He's looking to move up in points as well.
"On the track (Friday), we were faster than (Ambrose) was, so we'll just have to wait and see," Truex said. "Track conditions are going to be a lot different. I feel like we can have a great day with the speed that we've had in our cars all weekend long."