Kansas Speedway is no friend of those who are in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Only two Chase drivers – pole sitter Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, in third – qualified Friday among the top 11 for Sunday’s Camping World RV 400.
And seven of the 12 Chase drivers qualified 24th or worse, including points leader Carl Edwards of Columbia, who was 34th and 2006 Kansas champion Tony Stewart, who was 41st.
Defending Kansas champion Greg Biffle, who along with Johnson is 10 points behind Edwards in the Chase standings and winner of the first two Chase races, was 18th, and Clint Bowyer of Emporia 24th.
“A lot of the Chasers seemed to have difficulties, and hopefully we can take advantage of the good track position and get some momentum going on Sunday,” said Johnson, who actually qualified second with a speed of 172.007 mph but moved up to his third Kansas pole after Juan Pablo Montoya was disqualified because his car failed post-qualifying inspection because the pressure in his rear shocks was too high.
Montoya will start 42nd on Sunday.
“The track was slick all day long,” Johnson said. “I’m shocked to see some of the guys where they ended up qualifying.”
Johnson shouldn’t have been surprised.
In the first four years of the Chase, only one driver in that that year’s Chase has won at Kansas Speedway, and that was Mark Martin in 2005. Martin, not in the Chase this year, qualified second.
Joe Nemechek (2004), Stewart (2006) and Biffle (2007) were non-Chase participants who have won at Kansas Speedway in the past four years.
“Qualifying was challenging today,” Johnson said. “The sun set on the track, and if you didn’t get your stuff just right, it was a rough qualifying lap.
“Everybody knows how important track position is, and I thought some of those guys in the Chase were stronger in practice.”
Just because he’s in the front, Johnson said there are no guarantees on Sunday.
“This is just one day of three,” he said. “The important day is Sunday. We qualified 20th last week, and before we knew it we were in the thick of things (finishing fifth at Dover).
“It doesn’t mean this is a lay-up weekend, and we’re going to pick up points on the other chase competitors. Every little bit helps, and having clean air starting in the front row is something we can’t emphasize enough how important that is.”
Some of the Chase drivers who qualified poorly didn’t have an explanation.
“We’ve just got something wrong with our cars here, the whole group,” said Biffle. “I guess we’ve got one more day to figure it out.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 11th, said: “We had a real early draw, so I wasn’t too optimistic about the position. The car is pretty good. It’s going to be pretty fast, I think.”
Stewart said: “We’ve been decent all the way up until that qualifying run. I don’t know what happened. Something must have happened. We were decent in practice this morning, for sure.”
Now that he’s on the pole, Johnson can gain an easy five bonus points by leading the first lap.
“If I can leap a lap, great,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be competitive all day long. I’d feel so stupid if I was trying to get those five and stuck it in the fence and lost 165. It would be foolish.”