Kasey Kahne put Red Bull Racing on pole position at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a lap of 29.775s, and his team mate Brian Vickers will line up behind him on the second row in fourth place for the start of Sunday night's AdvoCare 500.
"It was definitely not a perfect lap, but it was a little better than what everyone else did!" said a delighted Kahne, who is with Red Bull Racing for just a single season before moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
It's Kahne's second pole position of the 2011 season after Darlington, and the 22nd of his Cup career comprising 277 starts. He has won twice at Atlanta - once from pole in 2006 - and a third time lucky could put him into late contention to make the Chase.
Clint Bowyer claimed the second spot with one of the final qualifying runs of the Saturday early evening session, bumping Kyle Busch back to third place. Bowyer desperately needs a win in order to put himself into contention for a Chase wildcard, and the front row starting position is just what the doctor ordered for him.
"She was loose; holy cow, it was a handful!" Bowyer said of the #33's qualifying run. "But it was a fun lap," he added with a big grin on his face. But he added that he was worried about the car's performance on long runs and how hot and greasy the track will be for the evening race: "That is what we are trying to figure out right now is where to be with our car. We have a lot of homework to do tonight."
Busch - who was beaten by Bowyer in the Truck race the night before - was disappointed with the handling of the #18. "It was just a little too loose all through the whole lap, but especially on corner exits," he explained. "I just couldn't get the throttle down the way I needed to, to get myself going on down the straightaway."
Four drivers locked-in to the Chase are in the top seven positions for the start of the race: Kyle Busch in third with Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards in positions five through seven.
"Just happy with the improvements we've been able to make and the performance we've been having lately," summarised Gordon. "I feel like we have a really good race car."
"It's hard to decide where to run on this race track because it's so wide and there's so much grip all over," said Edwards after qualifying. "I think we're gonna see some really good times coming up."
Two drivers seeking to lock-in to the Chase after Atlanta - Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch - round out the last row of the top ten in ninth and tenth, but it was less promising for Tony Stewart (20th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (29th) in their battle to stay in the top ten Cup points positions to make it into the Chase.
Tony Raines, David Stremme, Geoffrey Bodine and TJ Bell failed to make the 43-car starting grid.
Many eyes will be on Brad Keselowski, who qualified a slightly disappointing 14th place after earlier avoiding an engine change penalty when debris damage sustained during practice turned out to be confined to the oil pan area.
If Keselowski can continue his streak of wins and top threes even here on this intermediate 1.54-mile D-shaped oval then no one will be able to deny that he's a top favourite for the Championship. Moreover, even more depends on whether Keselowski can improve his position in the points standings. If he climbs into the top ten and knocks out either Stewart or Earnhardt then he will also free up one of the two wildcard slots, which would transform the Race of the Chase situation.
As a result, the Atlanta night race promises to be an exciting battle: however, the weather is looking increasingly marginal. After drought conditions for almost a month, the region is now looking likely to be hit by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee which is tracking north-east fresh from inundating the upper Gulf Coast with the area around New Orleans. Forecasters predict an escalating risk of heavy showers and storms hitting the region in the early part of the evening when the race is due to begin, which could force a delay until Monday (which is the Labor Day public holiday in the US) when the forecasts are scarcely more promising.
"This weather isn't looking too good," said front row man Bowyer. "Hopefully we can look forward to a good run tomorrow night because I want to run tomorrow night."
Currently, the start of the race is set for 7.30pm on Sunday (12.30am BST). In the UK, the Sprint Cup race is shown live on the Premier Sports TV subscription satellite TV channel.
Full qualifying and practice times