Chase contender Matt Kenseth has had a deceptively quiet and drama free season to date, apparently cruising into the Chase without the fireworks of a Carl Edwards or a Kyle Busch, but without the high tension and nailbiting struggle of a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a Tony Stewart.

But cometh the Chase, cometh Kenseth - and he stepped firmly into the limelight at Chicagoland Speedway by taking pole position in qualifying for Sunday's first Chase race, the Geico 400, which means Kenseth is suddenly firmly front and centre, with fans wondering whether it might just possibly turn out to be the #17's year.

"For me to qualify this good, you know my car is fast," said Kenseth, who set his laptime of 29.469s some time before the midpoint of the qualifying session. "We had a pretty good lap there."

It's Kenseth's second pole of 2011 and his sixth in 427 Cup race starts, and he's hopeful that the advantage may see him become the first Ford driver to break the engine manufacturer's curse on never having won at Chicagoland.

"I think starting up front is nice, having a good pit stall. Hopefully, you can get a good start and get a bonus point and try to keep up with the track a little better," he said. "I'm really happy to be on the pole, but it's just a starting position, and we've got to work really hard on the race."

Starting alongside Kenseth on the front row for the race is Paul Menard, the Richard Childress Racing driver who has been very much in the news this week after Jeff Gordon labelled his spin late in last weeke's Cup race "fishy" in the way it was timed to help his RCR team mate Kevin Harvick, who eventually won the race.

Menard and RCR have categorically denied that there were any team orders for Menard to spin out when he did. NASCAR have said they were looking into it, but today CEO Mike Helton said that he had seen "nothing conclusive" in the radio communications between Menard and his team.

"So far everything that we've been able to look at and listen to regarding the situation leads us to believe that there was nothing inappropriate done on the part of the #27 car in the Richmond race last Saturday," added NASCAR's spokesman Kerry Tharp later.

Beyond the front row, five of the top six gird positions are taken by Chase contenders with Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman on the second row and Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski on the third.

Kyle Busch starts from ninth place, Jimmie Johnson from 12th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 19th, Jeff Gordon a disappointing 23rd and Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin from 26th and 27th position. The worst qualifier of the Chase drivers is ironically the one who won the most recent Cup race - Kevin Harvick, who could manage only 30th.

Trevor Bayne and Scott Speed were among the drivers of non-guaranteed cars to make it into the race. Travis Kvapil, David Starr, Stephen Leicht and Mike Skinner failed to qualify for the 43-car field.

Full qualifying and practice times available.