JOLIET, ILL. - There were a couple of shocks Saturday in qualifying for Sunday’s first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship at Chicagoland Speedway.
The first was that Matt Kenseth put the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford on the pole with a lap of 183.243 m.p.h.
The second shock was that five-time consecutive Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified back in 12th position at 182.020 m.p.h. in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
But he wasn’t the only Chase contender to come up slow on this Saturday.
Kyle Busch, the No. 1 seed going into Sunday’s GEICO 400 was only ninth fastest in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 182.340 m.p.h. and No. 2 seed Kevin Harvick was the slowest of all 12 Chase drivers qualifying back in 30th position in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at 180.523 m.p.h.
Kenseth, not known as a good qualifier, surprised even himself with the speed he got out of his Ford.
“I am happy to be on the pole but it is still just a starting position and we have to work hard on the race and keeping up with our adjustments,” he said.
Busch said that his car was tight, making it hard for him to carry as much speed as he wanted into the turns.
“We were just a little too tight, but overall it wasn’t a bad lap,” he said. “I am looking forward to going out there tomorrow and just having a solid start to the Chase.”
Non-Chase driver Paul Menard will start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday after he went around Chicagoland’s 11/2-mile oval at 183.125 m.p.h. in the No. 27 RCR Chevrolet.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. could only manage a 19th-best qualifying lap in the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet at 181.305 m.p.h.
“We’ve struggled in qualifying all year long; we’re really are wanting to fix that,” he said. “But I think we made some gains on that and might help us the rest of the (Chase).”
Among the other Chasers Kurt Busch qualified third, Ryan Newman fourth, Carl Edwards fifth and Brad Keselowski sixth.
Jeff Gordon at 23rd, Tony Stewart at 26th and Denny Hamlin in 27th join Harvick way back in the pack.
Travis Kvapil, David Starr, Stephen Leicht and Mike Skinner failed to qualify for the 43-car field.
NASCAR bosses promise that the uncertainty over the future of the Nationwide NAPA 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal will be put to rest in the next two weeks. The race has been in limbo since the Quebec provincial government withdrew its support — amounting to $500,000 and matched by a federal grant — earlier this season ... Clint Bowyer is said to be close to a deal to move to Michael Waltrip Racing next season with sponsorship from 5 Hour Energy.