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In title fight, Kenseth claims Homestead pole

November 15, 2013, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Points leader Johnson, third-place Harvick to start in top 10

RELATED: Sunday's lineup | Series standings | Chase coverage

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Game on.

With a pole-winning run Friday at Homestead-Miami SpeedwayMatt Kenseth sent a clear message to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson.

Kenseth isn't about to go down in the championship battle without a fight.

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Touring the 1.5-mile speedway at 177.667 mph, Kenseth drove the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to his third Coors Light Pole award of the year (tying a single-season career best), his first at Homestead and the 11th of his career.

Trailing Johnson by 28 points entering Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400, the season finale in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kenseth will start six positions ahead of Johnson, who qualified seventh at 176.598 mph.

Nevertheless, Kenseth doesn't expect to have a shot at the championship unless Johnson has trouble. Johnson will lock up his sixth title if he finishes 23rd or better, 24th with a lap led or 25th with most laps led.

"All we can do is control the (number) 20," Kenseth said. "My team did a wonderful job of that today. The car was way better than I was all day, so I could give it a decent lap and get some of the speed out of the car.

"I think that's a start of it. Even though this is a really great track -- it's really, really wide with a lot of grooves, you can really pass -- it's (still) hard to pass these days, and track position's really important. We can't really control what they do. They don't usually run 23rd or 24th without any problem.

"So, really, I just think we concentrate 100 percent on the 20, try to do everything we can to go out there and run up front, hopefully have a shot to win the race, finish as high as we can, so if they do have any kind of problem, we're there to capitalize on that."

For his part, Johnson likes his chances but knows he must finish the race.

"It's a great position to be in," Johnson said. "There's no doubt about it. I think back to the old points system (pre-2011), what that number would equal. That's a big number, so it's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday."

Kevin Harvick -- third in the standings, 34 points behind Johnson and the only other driver with a mathematical chance at the title -- qualified sixth at 176.655 mph.

In the competition for the pole, Kenseth edged Kurt Busch (177.445 mph), who will start from the front row for the ninth time this year (one pole and eight second-place qualifying efforts).

Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano (177.282 mph) and Brad Keselowski (177.061 mph) will start on the second row after qualifying third and fourth, respectively. Denny Hamlin (176.846 mph) will start fifth.

Behind Johnson, and rounding out the top 10, are Martin Truex Jr. (176.436) in eighth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (176.436) and Elliott Sadler (176.413).

The Sprint Cup Series has two practices slated for Saturday, the first from noon-12:55 p.m. ET (televised on FOX Sports 2) and the final practice from 3-3:50 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 2).

The Ford EcoBoost 400 is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN).

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