Kurt Busch was looking in top form and well rested following the Easter weekend break as he put the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on pole position for this weekend's Duck Commander 500 night race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The 36-year-old former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion won his 18th pole in 511 races with a third round lap of 27.857s (193.847mph). He was last on pole three weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, only his second race of the year after having been sidelined for the first three events by a NASCAR suspension imposed just before the season opener at Daytona.
CLICK: Full qualifying and practice times from Texas
"Everything is so tight in qualifying," said Busch, who has never won pole at Texas before in the Cup series. "With the track continuing to change, with the sun and the shade, then the track rubber built up, air pressures are changing and tyres are dropping off.
"The guys at the track, the guys at the shop, the tire guy, the engine guy - everyone chipped in," he continued. "That's what this is all about, getting that little extra. We did that with our Haas Automation Chevrolet today.
"The second pole of the year feels good. Now we need to dial it in and get that long-run speed out of the car," Busch added.
Making it an all-SHR front row for Saturday night's race is Busch's team mate Kevin Harvick, who was narrowly pipped to pole by just 0.018s after having earlier topped the times in the second round of the qualifying process.
"The car feels good," said the defending Cup champion. "We stuck to our plan, and that's what exactly what we had planned to do in practice. Everything worked out good. We made one qualifying run and spent the second half of practice really concentrating on race runs and make sure we can run the long hauls. I feel really good about that.
"I'm just really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing, on the #41 team for getting a pole and my team for doing a solid job every week," he noted. "Look at the line up in the top-12 and you can see the Hendrick engines and chassis that are in that top-12 is really impressive. I'm excited for tomorrow."
It was indeed a triumphant day for the Chevrolet squad in Texas, with only the two Penske Ford cars in third and sixth positions able to break the bow-tie stranglehold of the final pole shoot-out round of qualifying.
"You can always be a little bit better, but the #4 and the #41 have been fast week in and week out and they're fast here again," admitted Keselowski, who will start alongside birthday boy Kasey Kahne on the second row of the grid for this weekend's race, but at the cost of burning an extra set of tyres in the process.
"The guys did a great job getting us to where we're at here and being first in class," insisted Keselowski. "It never helps to have extra runs on the tyres, but we made the most of it."
The third row will see Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jimmie Johnson lining up alongside the second Penske car of Joey Logano.
"We knew we had a fast car and I maybe conserved a little too much on the opening session and barely transferred through and kind of made my guys nervous," conceded Johnson. "We got into the second round and went on to the third and had a nice top five there. It's nice to have just raw speed in the car. I feel like that will translate to what we need in the race."
"I felt like we were better in race trim than we were in qualifying trim the whole time, so we kind of finished as expected for qualifying," contributed Logano. "It feels really close, but I think we're all right and we have a decent starting spot. [Crew chief] Todd [Gordon] told me we won from tenth last year, and we've qualified tenth the last few times we've been here, so we're improving."
Ryan Newman and Paul Menard make for an all-Richard Childress Racing fourth row ahead of an all-Ganassi line-up of Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray in ninth and tenth. After having topped the first round of qualifying, Jeff Gordon eventually had to settle for 11th place in the pole shoot-out stage while SHR team co-owner Tony Stewart will take the green flag in 12th place.
"The first run was unbelievable," said Gordon. "We struggled in practice and that lap I don't know where it came from. The car was just amazing did everything I wanted it to do.
"We made an adjustment for the second run and the car went the exact opposite way," he explained of his subsequent downturn after that outstanding early effort. "I got really loose. We tried to tighten it up and then I got really tight. That has kind of been our day we have had a lot of inconsistency today.
"But the car has good speed so hopefully we will get it figured out for tomorrow," he insisted. "Twelfth is better than I thought we were going to be actually when the day started."
Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr., also suffered something of a downturn during the day. After coming top in the first of the day's two Cup practice sessions, Truex ended up a rather disappointing 15th place in qualifying and was eliminated at the end of the second round.
"Turn 2 is where I lost the most time," he said. "I just couldn't just quite hit the corner just right. We missed the last round by two-thousandths or something crazy. If I could have done a little better job. I missed my line a little bit, didn't get the car where I needed it and then slid the rest of the way off of Turn 2. I missed it a little bit today but feel like we had a pretty good race car for the longer runs today and we'll get 'em tomorrow night."
Truex was nonetheless the fastest of a clutch of Toyota-powered drivers. He'll start alongside Carl Edwards for the race, a row ahead of Edwards' Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin in 17th and 18th positions respectively.
Further back, the fourth SHR car driven by Danica Patrick will start from 21st place alongside Roush Fenway Racing's Rickey Stenhouse Jr. and just ahead of Stenhouse's team mate Trevor Bayne in 23rd. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a disappointing qualifying and will cross the start line in 25th place.
Richard Petty Motorsports' Sam Hornish Jr. could only manage 29th place on the grid putting him alongside the final JGR car of David Ragan, who continues to substitute in the #18 car for the injured Kyle Busch. Brett Moffitt qualified in 36th place sitting in for the unwell Brian Vickers in the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing car, and Chris Buescher made the race in 40th position thanks to owner points as he sits in for Ragan at Front Row Motorsport.
Failing to make the 43-car grid for this weekend's race were Brendan Gaughan and Jeb Burton.
See full qualifying and practice times from Texas