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Johnson opens Chase campaign with pole position

Kenseth didn't sound quite so thrilled about his own qualifying run by contrast. "I was happy from the aspect that I got everything we could get out of it for today," he said. "I feel like I got a good lap but I think there is some more speed out there."

Having failed to sneak into the Chase, Carl Edwards ironically got one of his better qualifying results of recent weeks and will start form fifth place on Sunday alongside the third of the four Hendrick team mates, Kasey Kahne.

"It was a very good lap - that is a very fast race car," said Edwards. "My lap wasn't perfect but the speed was there. I am happy with it, I think it is really good. I don't know yet about race trim tomorrow - we are working on it still and hopefully it will be good. That is a good lap though."

Kahne was similarly happy with the outcome: "The car feels really good, I just kind of drove in a little too hard into one and I got tight because I over shot the corner," he recalled. "Once I got it to turn I felt really good from there out. I was happy with it. I think our race stuff will be really good tomorrow, I'm looking forward to it."

The final member of the four-man Hendrick squad - all of whom had made it into the 2012 Chase - is Jeff Gordon, but he was off the pace of his team mates on Saturday afternoon and will start the race from 19th position tomorrow.

"No near as good as good as I was hoping for," he admitted. "We ran the same time we did yesterday so it wasn't a very good lap. It's going to put us back. The car was a little bit loose, I think a lot of people are struggling with that."

By contrast to Johnson's opening success, reigning champion Tony Stewart slumped to 29th place in qualifying. Stewart can at least take small consolation in knowing that he is not the lowest of the Chase contenders on the grid tomorrow, with Kevin Harvick starting from 35th place.

Danica Patrick made it into the race on car owner points but will start down in 41st position. Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, JJ Yeley and Jason Leffler all failed to make the 43-car grid.

“It was loose, really loose," said Patrick, admitting that her lack of Cup experience was showing this weekend. "I'm definitely not good enough at this point to know how to fix that; or exactly what I even what I need even necessarily going into qualifying.

"I'm still at the point where we are going to have good things happen and bad things happen in the weekend. Definitely getting going in practice was a good thing for us and getting closer on race runs was a good thing for us," she continued. "The last one I did which was Atlanta: we popped off a good lap in qualifying but we weren't so great in practice. Here I would say we were better in practice but our qualifying lap wasn't any good.




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Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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