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Kenseth kicks Chase off with Chicagoland pole

September 17, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- Will attempt to become first Ford driver to win a Cup race at the 1.5-mile track

Though no championship points are awarded for qualifying, Matt Kenseth got a leg up on his competition in the Chase in Saturday's time trials at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kenseth also took the first step toward doing something no Ford driver has ever done -- win a Cup race at the 1.5-mile track. Kenseth toured the track at 183.243 mph (29.469 seconds) to edge Paul Menard (183.125 mph) for the top starting spot in Sunday's Geico 400, the opening race in the Chase.

The Coors Light pole award was Kenseth's second of the season and the sixth of his career.

Watch: Out Front with Miss Coors Light

Though Chicagoland is a speedway with wide, sweeping corners, Kenseth said track position is more important here than one might expect.

"The track is really wide, so there's a lot of grooves to pass out there, but I still think [track position] is going to be important," Kenseth said. "There were a few times in practice yesterday when I ran up on some cars, and it was more difficult to get around them than I expected.

"I think starting up front is nice, having a good pit stall. Hopefully, you can get a good start and get a bonus point [for leading a lap] and try to keep up with the track a little better. We've been qualifying a lot better, if you throw Richmond out, but we've been slipping a little at the end of the race. I'm really happy to be on the pole, but it's just a starting position, and we've got to work really hard on the race, keeping up with our adjustments and that type of thing."

Chase drivers completed the top five with Kurt Busch qualifying third at 183.032 mph, followed by Ryan Newman (183.007 mph) and Carl Edwards (182.914 mph), Kenseth's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing.

Kurt Busch can thank a few last-minute changes by crew chief Steve Addington and a strong drive for his second-row starting spot.

"It was a great qualifying effort for us," said Busch, who won the first Cup championship contested under the Chase format in 2004. "We feel like getting off to a strong start in the Chase is important, and it starts with qualifying.

"Thanks to my guys and most importantly, Steve Addington. He made a couple of quick adjustments while the car was on the grid for qualifying this afternoon."

Other Chase drivers and their starting positions are Brad Keselowski (sixth), Kyle Busch (ninth), five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson (12th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th), Jeff Gordon (23rd), Tony Stewart (26th), Denny Hamlin (27th) and Kevin Harvick (30th).

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Matt Kenseth earns his sixth career pole in his 427th start.
• Kenseth is making his ninth top-10 start this season, including four of the past five.
• Paul Menard (second) gets his second front-row start of 2011.
• Kurt Busch (third) earns his 10th top-five start this season.
• Ryan Newman (fourth) earns his best 1.5-mile start in 2011.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) earns his 17th top-10 start this season, including all 6 races on 1.5-mile tracks.
• Josh Wise (38th) will make his first Cup Series start on Sunday.
• Five of the top-six and seven of the top-12 drivers in qualifying are in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
• The worst qualifying Chase driver was Kevin Harvick, starting 30th.
• Four Chase drivers qualified outside the top 20.
• The average starting position of Chicagoland Winners is 14th.

Travis Kvapil, David Starr, Stephen Leicht and Mike Skinner failed to qualify for the 43-car field.