Penske's Brad Keselowski succeeded in capturing pole position for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400 with a final qualifying round shoot-out lap of 27.621s (195.503mph) at Kansas Speedway.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying times from Kansas Speedway.
It's the first time that Keselowski has successfully topped qualifying in 12 races at the 1.5-mile intermediate track. It's his second pole of the season and his tenth in 228 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.
"It's been a really good day, but, of course there's a long way to go," said Keselowski. "We need a really good finish is what we need, and hopefully a win and that's still about 45 hours from now, so we've got to keep working. We have a lot to look forward to, so we're proud of today for sure, but looking forward. That's what matters.
"We weren't anywhere near as fast as we wanted to be at Charlotte, which was frustrating and I'm not sure I could answer why we're faster this week, but sometimes that stuff just comes and goes and you don't really understand why.
"When you have speed you have to make the most of it, and when you don't have speed you have to make the most of it," he added. "That's my job as a driver and I felt like last week we made the most of it to get a solid ninth-place finish out of quite honestly what wasn't a ninth-place day. So today - or hopefully Sunday, I mean - we'll have a first-place car and be able to get a first-place finish out of it and that would be key for us."
Keselowski also topped the sole Friday practice session by 0.018s from Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon. However, despite sweeping the day's track sessions in Kansas, Keselowski will not have the crucial first choice of pit stall that usually goes with winning pole position: instead, he will be the last-but-one to pick, after the #2 team received its fourth written warning at Charlotte about problems with technical inspections.
"I guess it's like getting a nice cheesecake with no toppings," he sighed. "I still like cheesecake. We'll make the most of it."
Instead, the first pit selection and a front row starting position goes to Joe Gibbs Racing's Carl Edwards, who narrowly missed out on pole position by just seven thousandths of a second
"It's a great effort for us and it's close to that P1 awfully close," said Edwards. "These are bittersweet because it's like you know you left a little bit out there, but it's still a great lap for us.
"I think somebody said there was something with the #2 and they lose a pit pick for some reason, so really we'll get that first pit stall, which will be huge for Sunday. That's a gift and we'll take it that will be a good starting spot and a great pit stall."
Edwards' JGR team mate Kyle Busch - who is at risk of being cut from this round of the Chase after a poor outing last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway - will have a chance to reboot his title prospects by starting from third place on the grid alongside reigning champion Kevin Harvick.
"The car was really good," said Busch. "The car felt good, but besides holding it wide open I don't know what else I needed to do. Just lacked a little bit probably there, but man, its fast, way too fast. Good starting spot for Sunday for sure, definitely a really good starting position. That will give us the pit selection we wanted and we were shooting for when we were coming here. So far, so good."
"Oh yeah I'm going to sleep way better," said a relieved Harvick, who had been struggling for pace in practice and was only 27th on the timesheets earlier in the way, the lowest of the 12 Chase contenders. "That is a win for us. We thought we were going to have to race our way from 25th so to be fourth is a huge improvement ... The car was really driving very well. The guys went through everything and did a great job of getting everything straightened out."
Two more Chase contenders line up on row three, with JGR's Denny Hamlin starting alongside Hendrick Motorsports' Jeff Gordon who is now just six races away from retiring from competition at the end of the 2015 season.
"We were pretty good," said Hamlin. "We were better than what we were in practice so that's good. Looks like all my team mates were up there too so overall pretty good day. Fought for a little bit of speed earlier in the day, but obviously everything was good there in our qualifying session. I think we were top ten or five in each session. Overall, pretty happy – wish I could have gotten a little bit more on that last run, but not a whole lot to complain about."
"That first time out I thought I put down a good enough lap, but when we got knocked down to 19th or 20th we got really nervous," said Gordon. "Then the second run pushed the car really hard and got on the splitter. We got it off the splitter and the speed just kept coming from there, so, yeah - great car. I love this place. I love driving laps around this place. The car feels awesome so that is a tremendous qualifying effort for us to start sixth."
Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. continued his run of solid qualifying performances with seventh place on the grid alongside the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers #21 driven by Ryan Blaney, who is the highest of the non-Chase drivers on the grid this week in eighth spot and who had gone even faster in the second round, topping the timesheets.
"We got better from the first round to the second round, we had a really good second round and the #2 went a little quicker the last round," said Blaney. "I tried to get a little more and it bit us. I should have just did what I did the round before and see if it was a little bit faster, but I just tried to get too much and unfortunately lost a little bit of speed there. But I'm proud of everybody on this Motorcraft team."
The remainder of the top ten is completed by RCR's Ryan Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch, with the remaining two places in the final round of qualifying taken by JGR's Matt Kenseth and non-Chase contender Greg Biffle in the Roush Fenway Racing #16.
"We did everything good in 1 and 2, just a little bit tight through 3 and 4 [but] eight guys were a little better than us," said Busch. "All-in-all the Haas Automation Chevy is fast. We are doing our homework and we will keep chiselling away. Now it's about long green runs. I think we have seen some of that trend here in the Chase and with Kansas you can go further on tires than you can on fuel. We have to work on that tomorrow and make sure we have the balance right on the #41 Chevy."
"We just couldn't get it - it was a good day for us, but we certainly want to be better than 11th," said Kenseth who had clearly been hoping for better from the session. "I was really encouraged after practice, we had a really good feel and pretty good speed on our mock up run, just couldn't get the balance in qualifying."
Just missing out on the pole shoot-out round was RCR's Paul Menard who missed the cut by just 0.008s. He will start in 13th place just ahead of the two Chase drivers not to make it into the pole shoot-out stage, Penske's Joey Logano in 14th place and Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 15th.
"We haven't been really fast since we started and I don't know why," admitted a frustrated Logano. "I don't understand it completely, but our team mates [Keselowski and Blaney] are fast so we know what we have to do to go fast. We didn't do it, that's all."
"I was tight in the middle of 3 and 4 all day," signed Earnhardt. "We were trying to work on it and we had some pretty good laps I thought. We just barely missed it. We are getting a little bit better we are starting to understand somethings that we are seeing in the qualifying package and how to get one set of tires to run a little bit better that next run and in the third run and doing somethings.
"I like some things that I saw today and I think the car has good speed," he added. "We just ran around the bottom today. Once this thing widens up it's coming to me."
Although Earnhardt was the lowest-placed of the Chase field in qualifying, he still did better than his two teams mates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne who will be lining up in 21st and 24th places respectively. In Kahne's case that's surely understandable, as he was still celebrating the birth of his son Tanner Lee Kahne in the early hours of Monday and presumably hadn't been able to get too much sleep this week.
Qualifying was red-flagged early in the first round when Germain Racing's Casey Mears crashed, meaning that he had to rely on owner points to make sure he made it into this weekend's event. He did serious enough damage to the #13 to force the team to break out the back-up car, meaning that Mears will start Sunday's race from the back.
"I just got loose, that is for sure," explained Mears. "We were a little bit tight in practice and we loosened it up a little bit for qualifying here and just got loose. I got back wide open and when it snapped, it snapped pretty hard and just didn't have a whole lot of time to catch it.
"Unfortunate, this hasn't happened a lot to us, but we are finally starting to get going here. I think our GEICO Chevrolet team is getting going pretty good. We have had some pretty good speed the last couple of mile and a half's. We had a little bit of a mishap earlier this morning that set us behind, but I felt like the car was going to have really good speed.
"That part is unfortunate because I'm sure our back-up is good, but I don't know if it has as much detail as this one does. Hopefully, the guys will get that thing ready to go and we will be okay for Sunday."
Premium Motorsports' Timmy Hill was the sole qualifier to fail to make it into the 43-car field for the race.
See full NASCAR Sprint Cup practice and qualifying times from Friday at Kansas Speedway.