Matt Kenseth claimed pole position for the penultimate round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix.
The Roush Fenway racer bumped fellow Ford driver AJ Allmendinger from pole with a lap of 26.260 seconds at an average speed of 137.101mph, which gave him his seventh Cup career pole and his third of the year, more than he has ever achieved in a single season.
Kenseth's lap ended up splitting the main title contenders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards onto separate rows. They had looked set to start right next to each other but ended up eighth and ninth, respectively, the Stewart Haas racer having to take the first green flag on Sunday from the less favorable outside line.
Drivers struggled with loose cars and poor grip relative to Friday's practice sessions amid the hotter track conditions, but teams anticipate the track will continue to change as overnight rain is expected to take away some of the rubber that has already been laid on the new surface.
"Jimmy [Fennig, crew chief] had a strategy to go fast in the first practice to go out late," said Kenseth. "Even though we knew the temperature would be hotter he thought the track could be faster with more cars having run on it. A lot of people chose the opposite strategy and worked on race set-up in the first practice and did their qualifying stuff in the second practice to go out early.
"He had a plan and made the right adjustments. He thought it would be looser today. I didn't get all there was to get out of the car. It was just that good. They made all the right choices there."
Kenseth remains mathematically in the title hunt despite his 33-point deficit to Edwards, while Kevin Harvick, also still in contention, qualified 27th. Penske's Brad Keselowski was 12th fastest while four-time Phoenix winner Jimmie Johnson will start 16th.
Kyle Busch was 34th fastest but he will start from the rear of the field following an engine change during the first practice session on Friday. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin spun when starting his qualifying run and ended up 33rd on the grid.
Red Bull rookie Cole Whitt impressed on his first Cup outing, qualifying 19th, right behind teammate Brian Vickers.
Scott Riggs, David Stremme and Andy Lally, who spun on his qualifying run while driving his back-up car, all failed to make the field.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 26.258s
2. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 26.384s + 0.126s
3. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 26.411s + 0.153s
4. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 26.455s + 0.197s
5. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 26.455s + 0.197s
6. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 26.469s + 0.211s
7. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota 26.473s + 0.215s
8. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 26.488s + 0.230s
9. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 26.529s + 0.271s
10. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 26.534s + 0.276s
11. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 26.547s + 0.289s
12. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 26.585s + 0.327s
13. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford 26.588s + 0.330s
14. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 26.608s + 0.350s
15. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 26.613s + 0.355s
16. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 26.618s + 0.360s
17. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 26.622s + 0.364s
18. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 26.624s + 0.366s
19. Cole Whitt Red Bull Toyota 26.625s + 0.367s
20. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 26.630s + 0.372s
21. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet 26.631s + 0.373s
22. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 26.634s + 0.376s
23. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 26.689s + 0.431s
24. Scott Speed Whitney Ford 26.694s + 0.436s
25. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 26.696s + 0.438s
26. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 26.704s + 0.446s
27. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 26.715s + 0.457s
28. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 26.751s + 0.493s
29. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 26.756s + 0.498s
30. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 26.764s + 0.506s
31. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 26.793s + 0.535s
32. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 26.837s + 0.579s
33. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 26.850s + 0.592s
34. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 26.936s + 0.678s
35. Michael McDowell HP Toyota 26.979s + 0.721s
36. Mike Skinner Max Q Ford 27.023s + 0.765s
37. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 27.040s + 0.782s
38. Casey Mears Germain Toyota 27.062s + 0.804s
39. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford 27.184s + 0.926s
40. Geoffrey Bodine Baldwin Chevrolet 27.417s + 1.159s
41. JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 27.911s + 1.653s
42. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 29.252s + 2.994s
43. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 27.157s + 0.899s
Did not qualify:
Scott Riggs R3 Toyota 27.336s + 1.078s
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 27.355s + 1.097s
Andy Lally TRG Ford 28.215s + 1.957s