Kurt Busch will lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to the green flag at Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon after coming out on top after a premature end to Friday evening's qualifying at the unique 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Busch clinched his third pole of the year and his 19th pole in 518 Cup races, two of which have now come at Pocono, with a lap of 50.676s (177.599mph) in the final round of qualifying. It was enough to him 0.014s ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing's Carl Edwards, who will duly start alongside him for Sunday's Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
See full qualifying results from Pocono Raceway
"Wow, what a day, today," said a delighted Busch. "I feel like there are six corners out there as hard as I was working; corner entry, corner exit. The car was just off-balance, especially with the new bumps in turn 2, and then we got way loose.
"I think we were 30th in practice and we had to drop back and punt," he continued, adding that he'd reverted to a set-up from his 2014 crew chief Daniel Knost who has since moved over to head-up operations on Danica Patrick' #10 car. "His set-up is what we reverted to from last year when we qualified outside pole.
"That's what it's all about - team communication and working hard together as a group," he said. "So, that's to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing to be a pole-sitter today ... Thanks to Haas Automation, Chevrolet, State Water Heaters; great pole position. We'll take it. We worked hard for it today. I'm very surprised and happy about the teamwork."
"This place has always been tough for me," contributed Edwards, who has won here once before albeit ten years ago. "We get to run the first run, work on it a little bit, second run and work on it and for me, that was the best run that we had all day. I was real proud of my guys and everybody worked together really well.
"It was good, the car is fast. This is fun. Hopefully, we can get a good pit stall, good starting spot and hold off these guys on the restarts," he added.
Maintaining his impressive performance to date in 2015 with Furniture Row Racing, Martin Truex Jr. will start in third place alongside Jeff Gordon in the Hendrick Motorsport #24. Busch's team mate Kevin Harvick still start from fifth place alongside Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon, with Brad Keselowski qualifying in seventh in the #2 Penske.
"It was a good day for us," beamed an upbeat Truex. "Honestly, just right off the trailer we have had a good car all day long. Hats off to the guys again for bringing a great race car. Really just tweaked on it little things here and there throughout practice and then again throughout the qualifying session made good gains each and every run.
"We thought our third run was a pretty good lap," he added. "Obviously really close to the first two guys, but missed it just a little bit. I'm starting to get this qualifying thing figured out and that is something that is definitely going to help us race better and get better pit stalls. I'm looking forward to Sunday."
"We showed how fast the car was in practice as well as backed it up in qualifying," said fourth-place man Gordon. "Didn't have our best session in session two, I missed turn one a little bit, but backed it up and put down a good lap in session three. We are going to start fourth, real happy with that."
"We just got loose in the last session," was Harvick's tale of his fifth place grid spot. "We have been struggling a little bit in the last sessions here trying to decide exactly what we want to do for balance. Still really proud the car is really fast and just go from there."
"I wanted a little bit more there at the end," admitted Dillon. "I thought we were going to have a shot at the pole. Those guys just never really slowed up. Our Dow Chevy has been good all weekend long, hopefully, we can just keep it up and let it overlay to the race and have a good finish on Sunday."
"I was just disappointed that we didn't have great speed," was Keselowski's pithy summing up of his session. "I'm not really sure why, but that's just part of it."
Only those seven drivers had set third round times just before Edwards' JGR team mate Denny Hamlin spun out a minute before the end. The ensuing red flag curtailed the session and left five of the drivers still in the pole shoot-out unable to set a flying lap time.
"I just got loose, that was the biggest thing," admitted Hamlin. "I was in the centre of one and two and I was just going for it. I had it set in my head that I was going to go for the pole and run as hard as I could and just stepped over the line a little bit.
"I felt I had a car that had plenty left in reserve to go for it and I tried," he continued. "I thought our FedEx Camry was very strong and I'm very optimistic that we have a great car for Sunday. Knowing that you can only go back to like 12th makes you just put it on the line a little bit more in these qualifying sessions. I went for it and just stepped over that line a little bit."
"I would have liked to see everybody finish their lap," said Kurt Busch, despite having been a net winner with pole position from the situation. "I always thought they should freeze the time when somebody spins. That way everybody still gets to get back out there and make their lap."
Two of Gordon's Hendrick team mates, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, were among those drivers caught out by Hamlin's spin and were unable to set a time, along with JGR's Kyle Busch and Penske's Joey Logano.
"That is unfortunate," Gordon sighed. "You want to see everybody get a chance at it. But that is what I love so much about this format. It creates drama in so many different ways. You are playing the cloud, the track conditions, the time and you don't know if somebody is going to have an issue and end the session."
As a result of the incident, Hamlin will start from eighth place ahead of Johnson, Kyle Busch, Logano and Kahne based on their completed second round lap times.
"I don't know that we would have sat on the pole," said Kyle Busch. "We weren't able to finish our lap. It certainly would have been nice to start further up front and have better pit selection than what we do, but that's the way the game is played and that's the way ours was played today. We'll take it and get ready for Sunday."
"You wait to try to get the best opportunity to go out there and lay down a nice lap and be fair to the field," pointed out a somewhat more frustrated Logano. "Because a car spins out and they throw a red flag for it and then you don't get an opportunity to go out and make a lap - I don't understand it. It makes me mad. I don't get it. We didn't even have a chance to try to put our car up front."
However on the other side of the argument, Jimmie Johnson was unexpectedly happy with the outcome: "Hell, that is the best I've qualified and I didn't even make a lap!" he laughed. "It is a really bizarre set of circumstances. I guess it is part of the way things work with this qualifying. It's just unfortunate to the guys that were on the track. But as long as NASCAR is consistent through all three series then we will take our medicine and just deal with it."
Ninth place is certainly better than the fourth member of the Hendrick line-up, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to start from 20th on the grid after failing to make the cut for the top 12 pole shoot-out. "I chopped the entrance to one on the first lap and that cost us a little bit of time. And then the next run we went into turn 1 and turned sideways and got loose and just kind of killed the lap. So, we had pretty good speed in practice and just didn't," he sighed, admitting: "The driver didn't do a good job."
Also just missing the cut at the end of round 2 were RCR's Ryan Newman and Ganassi's Jamie McMurray who will start from row 7. McMurray's team mate Kyle Larson lines up in 15th alongside Newman's fellow RCR driver Paul Menard.
Matt Kenseth was the sole JGR driver to miss the cut at the end of round 2 and the #20 will line-up in 19th place alongside Earnhardt. SHR's Danica Patrick will start from row 11 next to David Ragan in the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, and Patrick's team co-owner Tony Stewart will line-up in 28th place after recovering from a practice accident earlier in the day when bumps over the footpath tunnel in turn two helped him spin into the wall.
"I was already past the bump," Stewart insisted afterwards. "I got loose on the exit of it and couldn't catch it. Driver error."
"The tunnel turn is just really, really bumpy," agreed Kenseth. "They said it got really hot here last weekend and it started heaving and it has some massive, massive bumps in it. It's one of those things – it's the same for everybody and we'll have to figure it out."
With 43 cars entered for this weekend's race, all drivers will make it into Sunday's race - even Premium Motorsports' Brendan Gaughan, who was not able to turn a fast lap in the first round and who as a result will start at the back of the grid when the race gets underway shortly after 1pm local time (6pm BST).
See full qualifying results from Pocono Raceway