Tony Stewart claimed his first pole position of the season in qualifying for Saturday's Chase round at Charlotte.
Rebounding from two weekends where he lost ground in the standings after winning the first two races of the playoff series, the two-time Cup champion beat the benchmark set by fellow title contender Matt Kenseth (running a special pink color scheme this weekend, LEFT) by 0.006sec in order to win his first pole position in more than a year.
"I thought we could pick up time [relative to practice] because we were watching lap times and guys weren't picking up as much [time] as we're used to seeing here at Charlotte," said Stewart. "I knew [Stewart Haas teammate] Ryan [Newman] would put in a good lap.
"I rely on Ryan a lot when it comes to qualifying because he's the master at it, for sure. So, just took some of the information he gave us and went forward.
"It'd be nice to be the first guy to get to the start-finish line at the start of the race this week. This is a place where track position is really important so this is an awesome start for our team."
The Roush Fenway Fords of Kenseth and Chase leader Carl Edwards were two of a total four Fusions in the top-five as Richard Petty's AJ Allmendinger and Roush's Greg Biffle were fourth and fifth, ahead of Stewart's teammate.
Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard and Red Bull's Kasey Kahne had been fastest earlier in practice but could not improve significantly on their qualifying runs and ended up seventh and eighth ahead of reigning champion Jimmie Johnson.
Most of the title contenders were spread through the field, RCR's Kevin Harvick pipping Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. from provisional pole after his run but ending up just inside the top-15 in the order. Penske drivers Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski were among those not enjoying solid qualifying runs, ending up 20th and 26th, respectively.
Trevor Bayne was the fastest of those having to make the race on speed, securing a top-10 starting spot on his series' return after last racing a Cup car five weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. Former Truck Series champion Geoffrey Bodine, Scott Speed and Josh Wise failed to make the field.
Teams will run two practice sessions on Friday focusing on race preparations ahead of Saturday night's event.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 28.131s
2. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 28.137s + 0.006s
3. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 28.144s + 0.013s
4. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 28.159s + 0.028s
5. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 28.163s + 0.032s
6. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 28.186s + 0.055s
7. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 28.204s + 0.073s
8. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 28.214s + 0.083s
9. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 28.222s + 0.091s
10. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford 28.234s + 0.103s
11. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford 28.272s + 0.141s
12. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 28.272s + 0.141s
13. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 28.287s + 0.156s
14. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 28.288s + 0.157s
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 28.297s + 0.166s
16. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 28.299s + 0.168s
17. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 28.302s + 0.171s
18. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 28.326s + 0.195s
19. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 28.330s + 0.199s
20. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 28.336s + 0.205s
21. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 28.357s + 0.226s
22. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 28.383s + 0.252s
23. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 28.420s + 0.289s
24. Casey Mears Germain Toyota 28.462s + 0.331s
25. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 28.490s + 0.359s
26. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 28.493s + 0.362s
27. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 28.511s + 0.380s
28. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 28.559s + 0.428s
29. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota 28.583s + 0.452s
30. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet 28.594s + 0.463s
31. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 28.606s + 0.475s
32. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 28.613s + 0.482s
33. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 28.632s + 0.501s
34. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 28.682s + 0.551s
35. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 28.687s + 0.556s
36. David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 28.736s + 0.605s
37. Michael McDowell HP Toyota 28.807s + 0.676s
38. JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 28.818s + 0.687s
39. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 28.829s + 0.698s
40. Andy Lally TRG Ford 28.930s + 0.799s
41. Hermie Sadler TRG Ford 29.083s + 0.952s
42. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford 29.120s + 0.989s
43. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 28.985s + 0.854s
Did not qualify:
Geoffrey Bodine Baldwin Chevrolet 28.994s + 0.863s
Scott Speed Whitney Ford 29.000s + 0.869s
Josh Wise Max Q Ford 29.129s + 0.998s