HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team took a huge step away from their bad performance last week by winning the pole Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship-deciding race.
Kenseth turned a lap at 177.667 mph in his Toyota to claim the top starting spot for Sunday's race. He called it "a confidence booster" after his 23rd-place finish at Phoenix essentially ruined his title chances.
He was trailing Jimmie Johnson by seven points going into Phoenix and left the race down 28 with just one race to decide the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But the pole, his third of the season and 11th of his career, is a start toward a big rebound.
"I think more than morale, it's probably a confidence booster," Kenseth said. "The thing is, Jimmie is so far ahead, that even if he does have a problem we need to be in the front to be able to capitalize on that. This is a good start to that, hopefully get a bonus point right away, get the best pit stall. I think it's important, we need to be up front and try to lead as much as we can and be in the mix at the end."
Whether it's enough remains to be seen. Johnson, who needs only to finish 23rd or better Sunday to win his sixth championship, qualified seventh.
He feels good about his situation.
"It's a great position to be in, there's no doubt about it," Johnson said. "It's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday and that's really the goal for this Lowe's car."
Kevin Harvick is the only other driver mathematically eligible to win the title and goes into the race 34 points behind Johnson. He qualified one spot ahead of Johnson in sixth after internalizing too long about how to make his qualifying run.
"I argued with myself for an hour or two there, before that qualifying session, as to where I was going to run," Harvick said. "I thought I needed to run the bottom in (turns) three and four. All-in-all it was a good lap."
Kurt Busch qualified second to earn his ninth front row starting position of the season and Joey Logano was third.
Brad Keselowski will start fourth in his final race as defending Sprint Cup champion and was followed by Denny Hamlin.
Martin Truex Jr. will start eighth in his final race with Michael Waltrip Racing, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.