Fresh from sealing his first win in the Daytona 500 last weekend, Joey Logano rolled that momentum into the second round of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship by claiming pole position for this weekend's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"Hopefully, we'll finish where we start. It's been an amazing few weeks if you think about the Daytona 500 and everything that comes along with that, and then coming down here to Atlanta and starting first is special, especially for me here at this race track.
"Once again, this is one of those tracks we focused the whole time in practice on qualifying trim today,' he added. "We never came out of qualifying trim and focused on trying to make speed with our race car and it paid off once again. As long as we keep working hard, we're seeing results."
The Penske driver posted a best time of 28.477s (194.683mph) in the final top-12 pole shoot-out round to clinch pole by 0.131s over Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick at the 1.54-mile quad-oval track on Friday evening.
See full qualifying times from Atlanta Motor Speedway
The times were significantly faster than last year's pole lap at Atlanta of 29.118s (190.398mph) despite the new rules package reducing horsepower and downforce; drivers reported that the new configuration actually helped them become faster through the corners.
It's Logano's ninth Cup pole and his first at Atlanta. Harvick - who started on pole here last year - will line-up alongside him on the front row ahead of Ganassi's Jamie McMurray and Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin. Hamlin's new JGR team mate Carl Edwards lines up in fifth place alongside McMurray's team mate Kyle Larson.
Row four sees Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman starting next to new Richard Petty Motorsports recruit Sam Hornish Jr. who has taken over the #9 car from Marcos Ambrose, who has returned to V8 Supercars this year. The next row is an all-Hendrick Motorsports affair with Dale Earnhardt Jr. alongside last year's race winner Kasey Kahne.
Also making it through to the pole shoot-out were Aj Allmendinger and Logano's team mate Brad Keselowski, while RCR's Paul Menard and Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. just missed the cut and will start from 13th and 14th places respectively, just ahead of Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier.
David Ragan - starting his first race in the JGR #18 entry in place of the injured Kyle Busch - will start from 17th place alongside SHR's Danica Patrick.
Earlier, Logano and Harvick had shared the honours in the first two rounds of qualifying, with Logano fastest in the opening round with a top speed of 194.240mph and Harvick just pipping him in the second round with a slightly slower best lap of 194.118mph but was then frustrated when he was unable to match Logano's pole-setting pace in round three.
"I just did a bad job," said Harvick. "Obviously, in round one I missed turn one and in the last round, I missed turn one again and just didn't get to the bottom like I needed to in order to get back in the throttle.
"We have a fast car," he insisted. "The #22 [Logano] has probably been the fastest in a single car run, but I feel really good about our car on the long haul and that's what matters."
However, qualifying at Atlanta was marred by major controversy when a backlog in the line for technical inspection meant that qualifying started with almost half the field still waiting to get sighed off to allow them to head out onto the track. It's not clear whether the hold-up was because of a number of teams still getting to grips with complying with the new rules for 2015, or with NASCAR's new technology in the inspection line this season that is supposed to help streamline the process. Rear camber issues appeared to be a major cause of cars not getting through the line as quickly as expected.
Even with a 15-minute delay to the start of qualifying, 13 cars did not make it through in time to make a qualifying run before the end of the 15-minute first round and were therefore duly eliminated. Among those frustrated to find themselves on the sidelines for the rest of the session were Hendrick pair Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and Stewart-Haas Racing's Tony Stewart and Regan Smith.
"I felt like we had a shot at being up front. This is just absolutely ridiculous," said Gordon who will start the race from 35th place as a result. "I've seen five or six or even ten cars that have issues going through [technical inspection] with certain little things, but this many cars that didn't go - that's not on these teams. And they deserve better than this. I can't believe how disappointing this is.
"First time ever. There's a first time for everything, I guess. This is absolutely embarrassing. I just feel so bad for my guys," he continued. "To not even get a chance to go out on the race track is ridiculous. I know the fans deserve an apology.
"There is something wrong; or there is something wrong with the system, or there is something wrong with the amount of time they allot to get through," Gordon added. "There is no way this many good cars, talented people that they can't figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart. Yes we are pushing limits, but there is something wrong here."
"I don't know what to say about today. Spent all of our practice working on qualifying. Didn't even get a chance to make a lap. Frustrating!" tweeted Tony Stewart who will have to work his way up from 39th place on Sunday. "If we would have known this was going to happen, we could have worked on the race setup. Was a total waste of a day at the track."
"When I walked up 10 minutes before qualifying was scheduled to start, there were only 14 cars on pit road. So I have a hard time believing it was the teams," contributed JGR's Matt Kenseth, who also failed to post a qualifying time and will take the green flag in 36th place as a result. "They should really figure out how to get everybody through tech before qualifying starts, first of all. But if they can't do that, then they should just postpone qualifying until they can get everybody through tech, in my opinion. When there's that many cars, it's obviously not a team or two teams or five teams or ten teams trying to get away with something. There was obviously some other issue.
As ever, Johnson was more guarded with his own thoughts, tweeting simply: "There's a first time for everything I guess..." The six-time Cup champion will start this weekend's race in 37th place.
Even eventual pole winner Logano struggled to clear the inpection line in time. "I think you've got to be able to have the opportunity to go through there twice," he said afterwards.
Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill, Mike Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson also fell foul of the situation. The drivers for the top teams all made it into the 43-car grid based on owner points, but the weekend is already over for Wallace, DiBenedetto, Annett and Sorenson all of whom did not qualify for the race as a result of the confusion.
Qualifying at least avoided the situation that arose two weeks ago at Daytona when cars jockeying for position at the exit of pit road resulted in a multi-car wreck. Since then NASCAR has tweaked the rules regarding qualifying: now, once vehicles roll out of their assigned pit stalls for qualifying they cannot stop and must proceed to the track. The cars may run one at a time or they may run as a group, but they must keep rolling once they start.
The Cup teams now have one more practice session on Saturday to work on race settings before Sunday afternoon's Cup race. Saturday will also see qualifying and race day for both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series support events.
Full qualifying and Friday practice times