Jimmie Johnson rebounded from disaster last week at Charlotte to put himself on the front row at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's Good Sam Club 500 race, but he was pipped to pole position by his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Mark Martin.
Johnson will be hoping to repeat the form that saw him win at Talladega in April - after having also started from second position.
Martin's laptime of 52.799s on the 2.66-mile tri-oval was just two thousandths of a second faster than the reigning Cup champion who is battling to stay in contention for a sixth consecutive title in 2011 after a costly DNF last week. It's the veteran racer's 51st Cup pole position in a massive 826 starts during his career, and the third time he will have started at Talladega from pole. His most recent pole before today was at another superspeedway, Daytona, during the summer.
“Just a very fast race car and you look at where all four Hendrick cars are and we have a lot to be proud of and our qualifying efforts this year on the plate tracks have just been amazing," said Johnson. "I wish we were two hundreths of a second faster, because Mark got us by a couple of thousandths there but we will take it and just go race hard on Sunday and see where we end up.:
Clint Bowyer will line up alongside the Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne on the second row of the grid, while the third row features two Chase contenders in the form of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both of whom are already too far back in the points to realistically stand much chance of winning this year's championship.
Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman were the only other Chase contenders to qualify in the top ten in ninth and ten positions respectively. Matt Kenseth will start from 11th alongside Tony Stewart in 12th, while Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch start one row back in 13th and 14th positions and Brad Keselowski will start the race from 16th place.
Of all the Chase contenders, Kyle Busch had the most miserable time of it in qualifying and could only manage 34th place on the grid, following a turbulent Friday that saw him flat-spot a tyre in second practice, which then subsequently blew out and did extensive bodywork damage to his primary race car. He then had to switch to the backup car, which meant that he needed to get back out on track before the end of practice in order to avoid the penalty of being sent to the back of the field for the start of the race on Sunday
That happened to Busch last week at Charlotte after he was forced into an engine change between qualifying and the race, but despite starting form the back he climbed back through the standings to lead the most number of laps in the race. This week, with two-car drafting very much the order of the day, he will at least be cheered by the sight of his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate and fellow Chase contender in 31st place and their other team mate Joey Logano in 35th, making it possible for them to link up from early in the race.
Geoffrey Bodine, Scott Speed and Josh Wise all failed to make the 43-car starting grid, as did TJ Bell who is racing in the #77 car which is the number that Dan Wheldon was racing at last week's race in Las Vegas. Bell had put special decals commemorating Wheldon onto the car for this week's Cup event.
Friday practice had proved to be an eventful practice day at Talladega: Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann topped the times in the second practice session, despite having their front windshields confiscated by NASCAR during pre-session inspection. The windshields were found to have unapproved modifications and be too thin to meet NASCAR regulations, as was that of Bobby Labonte's car whose JTG Daugherty Racing car is built and supplied by MWR.
Because the infractions were discovered prior to practice and the windshields replaced by approved counterparts, there will be no race penalties applied to the three drivers. However, there will be post-race penalties in terms of points, fines or probation for the responsible staff when NASCAR reviews the event next week.
Full qualifying and practice times