Joe Gibbs Racing was once again looking in strong form this weekend in qualifying for Saturday evening's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the team successfully locking out the front row with Matt Kenseth leading the way by winning his fourth pole of the season.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying results from Charlotte Motor Speedway
"It was a heck of a lap and I knew it had a lot of speed," said Kenseth, who has now claimed a total of 17 pole positions in 574 Cup starts. "Changed up [turns] one and two a little bit – I just got a little tight in the middle of three and four trying for it. I knew it was pretty fast.
"Our Dollar General Camry has been really fast all day. It was a lot of fun to drive today. We only did qualifying, we have 500 miles on Saturday, but it was a lot of fun today."
Heading into this weekend's race - the first of three comprising the second elimination round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship play-offs - Kenseth was less sure about the #20's race pace, but the team will have two further practices on Friday to dial in the set-up more to the driver's liking.
"We didn't really work on any race trim today," acknowledged Kenseth. "We just kind of worked on getting qualified and the weather looks good tomorrow so we'll work hard on trying to get a nice race balance.
"In the spring [the last time that the Cup field raced at Charlotte], we weren't where we wanted to be for race balance. We had good speed and we qualified really well, but we didn't race as well as we wanted to so we'll work hard on that tomorrow and hopefully find a nice balance, something that drives good and has some speed for Saturday."
Kenseth's final round pole-winning lapped clocked in at 27.759s (194.532mph), putting him almost two tenths of a second ahead of his JGR team mate Kyle Busch who will join him at the front for the green flag for this weekend's race.
"Matt Kenseth, he's way better than me that's for sure," admitted Busch after qualifying. "He got more out of it than I did tonight.
"Our Pink M&M's Toyota Camry was awesome tonight," said Busch who had been only 21st in the earlier sole practice session of the day. "The guys brought a really good race car - it was good in practice and didn't show good speed there because everyone went out later and got good times, but we were able to post good speed there. Real happy with it."
Row two on Saturday will be taken up by Penske's Joey Logano and Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, who will be the highest-placed non-Chase contender on the grid this week. JGR's Denny Hamlin and Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch will be behind them on row three.
"It's a lot of fun qualifying here at Charlotte," said Charlotte. "You're just on the gas so much and there's so much grip when the sun goes down that you don't really fall off in speed with the different runs for some reason, so it's a lot of fun driving the Shell/Pennzoil Ford. We had a really good one and two, I thought, and just got a little bit tight in three and four and couldn't quite continue to turn through the two-thirds point in the corner and the exit, so I felt like I lost some there."
"We've been running really good here lately and we kind of brought the same set-up back that we had here [in the spring]," said Biffle. "I felt like I had a faster car than fourth. That's disappointing, but we're excited about starting up front here. I just wanted to be on the front row and we were really close. The car lost a little speed on exit down there, but we're pretty happy with it."
"That was a unique three rounds," was the view from Kurt Busch. "We had some air pressure changes, some wedge changes, more than normal and team communication was at an all-time high.
"I drove the car thinking that we had a shot at the pole, but I didn't want to end up 12th, so I gave it a nice smooth lap. Here we are we are P6. It was a nice smooth lap. I didn't think a pole was obtainable and that should give us a good pit box selection."
Fresh from his disappointment of being cut from the Chase after suffering technical failure at Dover International Speedway last week, Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson will start in seventh place alongside the fourth JGR driver Carl Edwards.
Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola was the only other non-Chase contender to make it into the final top-12 pole shoot-out round and he will start this weekend's race from ninth alongside Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman.
"We were consistent," said Newman. "I think a 12th, 8th and 10th. A good run for the Caterpillar Chevrolet from being 20th in practice; I'm proud of the guys they made a definite improvement. We will work on it for tomorrow obviously and then Saturday night, but I think the real question is going to be what is the weather going to be like?"
Having won last weekend's race at Dover to stay in the Chase, and having pipped Kenseth to the top of the times in the earlier sole practice session on Thursday, reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick could only manage 11th fastest in his final run meaning he will start alongside Johnson's Hendrick team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Got tight on the last run," was the terse summary from the SHR driver, clearly disappointed not to be starting further forward than he was.
"I wish we would have done better in that last round," was Earnhardt's response to lining up in 12th place. "We got really loose and I got loose off of 1 and ruined the whole lap.
"But, we were fast today in practice and fast in the first couple of rounds and better than we've been in qualifying for a long time. I think the cool temperatures helped us, and gave us some grip. The guys did a good job, really, bringing the car to the trackside and coming off the trailer quick. And, we got through the first couple of rounds pretty good. So, we're making some gains."
Penske's Brad Keselowski missed making the cut for the final round of qualifying and will start from 13th alongside RCR's Austin Dillon. Fellow Chase contender Martin Truex Jr. lines up right behind Keselowski in 15th for Furniture Row Racing.
"We just guessed wrong on the track," sighed Truex. "We thought it was going to go one way and it went the opposite. Our first run we were kind of caught out and had to make big adjustments.
"Of course you have another run on your tyres than everybody. We made good gains and our last run was by far our best, just that extra run on tyres really hurts you and we still didn't get it right. Just guessed wrong on the track tonight. You will have that sometimes."
The worst of the Chase contenders was Hendrick's Jeff Gordon, who will have to make his was through the field from 22nd place if he wants to be a contender in this week's race, his last outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway before his retirement from competition at the end of the season.
Failing to make the 43-car grid for this weekend's race were Josh Wise and Timmy Hill.
See full NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying results from Charlotte Motor Speedway