Matt Kenseth set a track qualifying record in capturing the pole for the Banquet 400, hoping it will put him in position to win today in Kansas City, Kan., and get back into the Chase for the Nextel Cup race.
Kenseth is seventh in the standings, 111 points behind leader Tony Stewart. The last time Kenseth won a pole, he took the checkered flag, too. Now he'd like more of the same at the 11/2-mile tri-oval at Kansas Speedway.
The 2003 Winston Cup champion, whose uneventful title run led NASCAR to overhaul its championship format, recorded his only victory this year on Aug. 26 at Bristol. This is his third career pole.
"We had a good car lately, and it's been a lot of fun to drive them," said Kenseth, who turned in a lap of 180.856 mph in his Ford yesterday. "We haven't had good cars until the last couple of months."
The top five qualifiers all broke Jimmie Johnson's track record of 180.373 mph, set in 2003 -- but no other title contenders made it into the first two rows, and only half of the Chase field will start in the top 10.
Carl Edwards, sixth in the standings, will start fifth today. Greg Biffle, sitting fifth, will start eighth. Stewart will start ninth, and defending champion Kurt Busch -- 10th in the standings and all but out of contention to repeat -- qualified 10th.
Ryan Newman, who trails Stewart by four points, will start 11th. Jeremy Mayfield, eighth in the standings, qualified 14th, with ninth-place Mark Martin starting 19th.
Third-place Rusty Wallace will have the most ground to make up today after qualifying 33rd in the 43-car field.
Two drivers chasing 11th place, and the $1 million bonus that goes with it, qualified second and third. Elliott Sadler, the first to break Johnson's record yesterday, will start on the outside front after running a quick lap of 180.717 mph in his Ford.
Jeff Gordon, winner of the first two Cup races here, had a quick lap of 180.469 mph in his Chevrolet and will start third.
Scott Wimmer qualified fourth, followed by Edwards, Kevin Lepage, Denny Hamlin, Biffle, Stewart and Busch.
Note: NASCAR plans to limit the number of teams a car owner will be able to field in the Nextel Cup series, chairman Brian France said yesterday. The limit will be phased in over the next few seasons.
All of the top teams currently in NASCAR are multicar teams, with Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports leading the way with five and four cars, respectively.