You don't get to be a five time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion without knowing how to time your charge to the finish of the Chase to perfection. And right now, it looks like Jimmie Johnson is delivering a master class in how to do it, as he seeks his sixth title in seven seasons.

"I think it surprised us all a little bit to lay one down like that," he said afterwards. "We didn't unload like we wanted to. We made a lot of progress through the practice session, and then got it right there for qualifying," he added.

"We exceeded expectations in qualifying," admitted Johnson. "A top ten was really the goal going into it, especially with our seeding process, we felt like going out as early as we did, the guys later would have a bigger advantage, and pick up some speed on us."

Not that getting pole was any sort of automatic assurance of success on Sunday, as Johnson knows all too well.

"As you get closer to the end of the year, they feel like they mean a little bit more," he added. "But, it's just another pole. Not saying that in a negative way, but the benefits that come with it are the same that you would have at any other track.

"We have 500 long, gruelling miles on Sunday, so we won a battle today." he said. "But the larger battle is definitely on Sunday here at the track. Hopefully all of these battles that we are winning right now will total up to winning the war at the end of the year."

Johnson's time of 28.261s (191.076mph) on the 1.5-mile banked Texas Motor Speedway was just a tenth faster than Greg Biffle who will start alongside Johnson on the front row for the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday afternoon.

"The #48 put down a heck of a lap going that early," said Biffle. "I drove it down in there and committed but couldn't hold it down from the centre out. The car was sliding and skating and I probably carried too much speed on entry and paid the price on exit. I backed it up a little in three and four and got a better three and four."

Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer line up on the second row of the grid, while Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano line up on row three making it a Toyota lock-out of positions three through six.

Trevor Bayne qualified in seventh, with Johnson's main Chase rival Brad Keselowski relieved to break a recent run of bad qualifying performances to claim eighth on the starting grid.

"It feels like a pole," admitted Keselowski. "It may not be a pole, but it feels like a pole to us. Our car has had a ton of speed since we've been here, in race trim, but qualifying trim has been our weakness all year ... I think that bodes very well for us come Sunday."

Other Chase contenders include Matt Kenseth (10th), Denny Hamlin (12th), Kasey Kahne (13th), Jeff Gordon (16th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th), reigning champion Tony Stewart (21st) and Kevin Harvick (23rd.)

Danica Patrick qualified for the race on speed in 32nd position. The three drivers not to make the grid were Stephen Leicht, Kelly Bires and Davide Stremme. There will be two more practice sessions available to the Cup field on Saturday ahead of Sunday afternoon's race.

In other news from the NACSR paddock on Friday, it was confirmed that the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team would be switching the supply of its Chevrolet engines from the Richard Childress engine program to that of Hendrick Motorsports in 2013.

"I think they [Earnhardt Ganassi] had been dealing with Hendrick for a while. It wasn't a surprise," said Childress, who denied that EGR's departure from the engine program would have any major repercussions for his company.

Full qualifying and Friday practice times are available.