Tony Stewart looked to be slipping away after his stunning start to the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he put himself right back into the game at Charlotte Motor Speedway by claiming pole position for the Saturday night Bank of America 500.
"That's a Newman lap there," Stewart said, referring to the much better usual qualifying form of his team mate Ryan Newman. "We've been pretty solid since we unloaded, so that's a perfect way to start the weekend so far."
It's Stewart's 14th career Cup Series pole in his 459th race. His time of 28.131s was an average speed of 191.959mph on the 1.5-mile quad oval, and was just 0.006s or 0.041mph faster than Matt Kenseth, who claimed the other front row position. Kenseth admitted later that he "left some out there" and wished that he'd been able to make a second run at it.
Carl Edwards put himself onto the second row of the grid to make it a top three dominated by Chase contenders. "It's nice to be disappointed with third-place in qualifying," said the Chase points leader, who will start the race alongside AJ Allmendinger. "It seemed very fast in one and two and I struggled in three and four. We're gonna go back and watch the tape. There may be some stuff I can
do better in three and four."
Stewart's team mate Newman (sixth) and a resurgent Jimmie Johnson (ninth) were the only other Chase drivers in the top ten.
"I didn't get the lap that I wanted," said Newman. "Car bottomed out pretty good in one and two. Really proud that we picked up a lot of speed, something we have been lacking here the last couple of weeks."
Kevin Harvick starts from 14th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. just behind him in 15th, with Denny Hamlin in 17th and Kurt Busch starting from 23rd position.
"I think it was pretty good," said Harvick, who is currently one point behind Edwards in the championship battle. "The car drove really good and they done a great job. The car unloaded good, I feel really confident about what we have.”
"I got lose down in the middle of one and two and didn't get back to the gas as soon as in one and two," explained Earnhardt. "Didn't think the lap was that great: hopefully it will hold us, we need a little boost to qualifying."
Jeff Gordon (23rd), Kyle Busch (25th) and Brad Keselowski (26th) were the lowest of the Chase drivers in qualifying.
"We are missing something today," admitted Gordon. "We have been off all day, in practice and we tried to get more out of it there. I thought that lap was better than that, so we will see where it ends up. We certainly gave it our best effort."
"I was just too loose," said Keselowski, who nonetheless was extremely positive about the potential of the #2 Blue Deuce for the race itself. "It was better than we thought it was going to be and just missed the change over coming into the night. That is as excited as I can be about a car that's [starting from 26th] because I know if it drives like it did with the front grip that it had, it's going to be amazing.”
Geoffrey Bodine, Scott Speed, Josh Wise failed to qualify after Hermie Sadler and Mike Bliss made the 43-car field based on car owner points.
The race takes place at 7.30pm local time on Saturday night (12.30am on Sunday morning BST, shown on satellite subscription channel Premier Sports TV.) The Nationwide Series "Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage" race is on Friday night at the same time, also from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Qualifying takes place earlier in the day.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Smith's 350 race meanwhile is being held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm and is one of the events supporting the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship season finale.
Full qualifying and practice 1 times