Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. clinched pole position by just three thousandths of a second over Chase contender Kurt Busch, ahead of Sunday afternoon's AAA 400 Sprint Cup race.
Truex's time of 22.641s was the best by anyone so far this weekend on the one-mile oval Dover International Speedway, making him the only driver to top 158mph during the session. It gives him his sixth Cup career pole in 218 starts. The last time he was on pole position was here at Dover in May 2010, and this is also the venue that gave him his only Cup victory in 2007: he's started from the top ten in all of the last four Dover outings.
“I feel like I understand what it takes to get around the place,” sais Truex of his favourite high-banked oval. “I love coming here. It's a really, really challenging and difficult racetrack, and if you don't like it, it's one of those places that you're never going to figure out."
Kurt Busch also has a good record here, having finished in the top five three times out of the last five races here. "We loosened the car up this morning, anticipating the track coming to us," said Busch. "That's just a sign of a team that's confident in their equipment, to make that kind of adjustment, even without much practice."
Having been fastest in the first practice session on Friday, Paul Menard will start on the second row alongside the next-highest Chase contender, Carl Edwards.
"It was a good run for us," said Menard. "Obviously wanted that pole, we have talked all year we have a win now, we want to get a pole. Still shaking a little bit from the run it is really fast obviously; track is a lot greener than it was yesterday with the rain over night."
"We've got a really great race car," said an optimistic Edwards. "I think I probably left a little bit out there, but this car is so good I didn't want to mess up qualifying. I knew I had one shot at it, one lap, and I'm just happy to start this race today and get it in."
Two more Chase contenders, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, form the third row of the grid - and will be hoping that they don't clash on-track as they did toward the end of last week's race at New Hampshire. Johnson in particular needs a strong result - and ideally a win - if he's going to kick start his hopes of a sixth consecutive title in 2011.
Another Chase driver in desperate need of a strong result is Denny Hamlin, who qualified in 11th place - although realistically it's already too late for him to claw his way back into title contention after two disastrous races to start the Chase off.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tony Stewart, who stunned the NASCAR paddock by taking two wins out of two Chase races - but who might find the going a bit tougher at Dover after only managing to qualifying in 28th position.
The only Chase driver who fared worse in qualifying was Jeff Gordon, who finds himself starting the Sunday afternoon race from 34th position.
Full qualifying times and positions