Cup points leader Mark Martin had to come from the 14th starting position to finish first and second in the first two Chase races.
In Sunday's Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway, Martin simply will have to maintain his position - not improve it - after winning the pole during time trials on a blustery Friday at the 1.5-mile track.
With a lap at 175.758 mph, Martin edged Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (175.279 mph) for the top starting spot. Earnhardt earned his best starting position since starting second at Watkins Glen in August 2008.
Full-time Nationwide Series driver Brad Keselowski, who runs a limited Cup schedule for two car owners (Rick Hendrick and James Finch), qualified third at 175.205 mph in a Hendrick car. Jamie McMurray (175.200 mph) and Tony Stewart (175.041 mph) will start fourth and fifth, respectively.
Kasey Kahne, Joe Nemechek, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and rookie Scott Speed claimed starting positions six through 10.
Martin, who leads the Cup standings by 10 points over teammate Jimmie Johnson, put his No. 5 Chevrolet on the pole for the seventh time this season, eclipsing his previous career best (six poles in 1989).
"Have any of you ever stepped on a cat's tail?" Martin asked after his lap. "I have accidentally stepped on a cat's tail before, and it's pretty funny how fast -- they make a noise, and they go really fast. That's kind of like when I step on the gas on that 5 car today, it was like stepping on a cat's tail. Man, that thing has so much horsepower."
Martin seemed as pleased with Earnhardt's performance as his own.
"Hendrick Motorsports swept the top three spots today in qualifying, and I was really excited for Dale Jr.," Martin said. "(He) really needed that shot in the arm -- and got it. It would have been nice to have seen him on the pole, but still, front row's great."
Earnhardt said some last-minute adjustments helped his qualifying run.
"We were just a couple of adjustments short and got those in right before qualifying," Earnhardt said. "We had a pretty good draw, going out 25th, but the track was about the same for everybody, I felt. The wind was pretty rough all day long, but I might have caught a window during my lap, because I didn't get any gusts or anything that bothered my car.
"It's a good front-row starting spot for us, and we need that type of performance -- and needed it for some time. It's got all the guys on the team excited. We'll see how that rolls over into (Saturday's) practice and see if we can carry some momentum throughout the day and try to turn out a pretty good racecar for Sunday."
In addition to Martin, Stewart, Kahne and Gordon, other Chase drivers will start as follows: Johnson, 11th; Brian Vickers, 12th; Juan Pablo Montoya, 14th; Carl Edwards, 17th; Denny Hamlin 22nd; Ryan Newman, 30th; Greg Biffle 31st; and Kurt Busch 39th.
David Gilliland, Michael McDowell and Kevin Hamlin failed to qualify for the 43-car field.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News