Kasey Kahne claimed his second pole position of the season in qualifying for Sunday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, the penultimate round ahead of the Chase. The Red Bull Racing driver beat the previous benchmark of the session set by Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch at the wheel of his No. 4 Toyota with a lap of 29.775 seconds at an average speed of 186.196mph.
Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer, who needs a strong result on Sunday in order to remain in the hunt for a Chase spot, got closest to Kahne's time, finishing less than half a tenth of a second adrift to lock out a front row spot.
Although Kahne is not completely out of the Chase picture, he currently looks unlikely to be among the title contenders this season. But his pole provides a much needed boost for his squad, which is still trying to secure funding for next year as Red Bull is set to pull the plug on its backing at the end of the season.
"I was surprised a couple of guys didn't beat me," said Kahne. "Clint came really close, but other than that nobody was really too close, I guess. Brian Vickers is fourth so we have a couple of cars in the top two rows for tomorrow night, so it's exciting, it's good.
"We definitely need to win... We need to still work on the car a little bit and throw something at it for tomorrow night, but I think we're close. Can we win? Anybody can in this deal these days... If we can win I think we still have a shot at the Chase."
Points leader Busch – who had a brush with the Turn 4 wall in practice earlier in the day – ended up third ahead of Kahne's teammate Vickers, while Hendrick Motorsports' Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five after holding on to provisional pole for a while. Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were sixth and seventh, with Stewart Haas' Ryan Newman and Penske's Kurt Busch completing the top 10.
Brad Keselowski, who was fastest in the first practice on Friday, was 14th fastest in qualifying after avoiding an engine change following damage to the oil pan on his car's engine during practice. He will start from the seventh row of the grid beside JGR's Denny Hamlin, the final man holding a provisional wildcard Chase spot.
Tony Stewart, who won the last Cup race held at Atlanta a year ago, showed great consistency during long runs in the final practice and will see the green flag wave from 20th on the grid. He is hoping for a solid result to remain among the top 10 in the points with the play-off looming.
Michael McDowell was the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in 28th, while Tony Raines, David Stremme, Geoffrey Bodine and TJ Bell failed to make the field.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 29.775s
2. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 29.819s + 0.044s
3. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 29.832s + 0.057s
4. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 29.843s + 0.068s
5. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 29.849s + 0.074s
6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 29.853s + 0.078s
7. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 29.877s + 0.102s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 29.880s + 0.105s
9. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 29.889s + 0.114s
10. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 29.915s + 0.140s
11. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 29.921s + 0.146s
12. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 29.939s + 0.164s
13. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 29.947s + 0.172s
14. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 29.949s + 0.174s
15. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 29.958s + 0.183s
16. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota 30.000s + 0.225s
17. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 30.055s + 0.280s
18. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 30.086s + 0.311s
19. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford 30.128s + 0.353s
20. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 30.147s + 0.372s
21. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 30.163s + 0.388s
22. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 30.183s + 0.408s
23. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 30.230s + 0.455s
24. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 30.232s + 0.457s
25. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 30.239s + 0.464s
26. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 30.270s + 0.495s
27. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 30.275s + 0.500s
28. Michael McDowell HP Toyota 30.291s + 0.516s
29. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 30.312s + 0.537s
30. Scott Speed Whitney Chevrolet 30.319s + 0.544s
31. JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 30.378s + 0.603s
32. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 30.388s + 0.613s
33. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 30.502s + 0.727s
34. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 30.513s + 0.738s
35. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 30.556s + 0.781s
36. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 30.673s + 0.898s
37. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet 30.702s + 0.927s
38. Casey Mears Germain Toyota 30.757s + 0.982s
39. Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 30.798s + 1.023s
40. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford 30.819s + 1.044s
41. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 30.822s + 1.047s
42. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet 31.060s + 1.285s
43. David Starr Leavine Ford 30.845s + 1.070s
Did not qualify:
Tony Raines Front Row Ford 30.870s + 1.095s
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 30.883s + 1.108s
Geoffrey Bodine Baldwin Chevrolet 31.014s + 1.239s
TJ Bell LTD Chevrolet 31.034s + 1.259s