Jimmie Johnson claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup pole position of the season in qualifying for Sunday's round seven of the Chase at Martinsville Speedway.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver scored his second pole during the play-off and probably the most valuable of the title battle thus far, beating the previous benchmark set by Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch with a lap of 19.415 seconds at an average speed of 97.598 mph.
Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers, who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, came closest to Johnson's lap and will share the front row with the five-time champion on Sunday.
"Track position is important and then that pit-road pick is so important," said Johnson. "We've been lucky in years past – I've been thinking in the spring we qualified 22nd and we still fortunately got a decent pit stall – but you take a lot more risks starting back there on the track and on pit road."
Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton held provisional pole for most of the session and ended up fourth behind Busch, whose JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, currently third in the points, was fifth fastest ahead of Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth, the fastest Ford in the field.
Last year's event- winner and reigning champion Tony Stewart was seventh, followed by Clint Bowyer, fourth in the points with just four races remaining. Behind them RCR's Paul Menard and Richard Petty's Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., returning from a two-week absence due to his concussion diagnosis, will start from 20th on Sunday, right beside Furniture Row's Kurt Busch, while AJ Allmendinger was 26th in his third outing for Phoenix Racing.
Chase leader Brad Keselowski had yet another poor qualifying, finishing the session 32nd, his worst of the season, meaning this will be the fourth consecutive week he starts a Chase event from 20th or worst.
Michael McDowell was fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in 21st, while Mike Bliss and JJ Yeley failed to make the field.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 19.402s
2. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 19.415s + 0.013s
3. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 19.436s + 0.034s
4. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 19.443s + 0.041s
5. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 19.445s + 0.043s
6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 19.467s + 0.065s
7. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 19.470s + 0.068s
8. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 19.472s + 0.070s
9. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 19.490s + 0.088s
10. Aric Almirola Petty Ford 19.500s + 0.098s
11. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 19.528s + 0.126s
12. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 19.529s + 0.127s
13. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 19.530s + 0.128s
14. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 19.541s + 0.139s
15. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 19.548s + 0.146s
16. David Ragan Front Row Ford 19.554s + 0.152s
17. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 19.555s + 0.153s
18. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 19.555s + 0.153s
19. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet 19.572s + 0.170s
20. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 19.579s + 0.177s
21. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 19.581s + 0.179s
22. Casey Mears Germain Ford 19.586s + 0.184s
23. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 19.592s + 0.190s
24. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 19.607s + 0.205s
25. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 19.616s + 0.214s
26. AJ Allmendinger Phoenix Chevrolet 19.645s + 0.243s
27. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge 19.669s + 0.267s
28. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford 19.693s + 0.291s
29. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet 19.696s + 0.294s
30. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 19.702s + 0.300s
31. Josh Wise Front Row Ford 19.712s + 0.310s
32. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 19.722s + 0.320s
33. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 19.728s + 0.326s
34. Landon Cassill BK Toyota 19.730s + 0.328s
35. Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 19.741s + 0.339s
36. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 19.741s + 0.339s
37. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 19.764s + 0.362s
38. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 19.792s + 0.390s
39. Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Toyota 19.813s + 0.411s
40. David Stremme Inception Toyota 19.819s + 0.417s
41. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota 19.820s + 0.418s
42. Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet 19.890s + 0.488s
43. Scott Speed Leavine Ford 19.954s + 0.552s
Did not qualify:
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 20.015s + 0.613s
JJ Yeley Max Q Chevrolet 20.015s + 0.613s