Homestead, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Matt Kenseth gained ground in his battle with Jimmie Johnson for the Sprint Cup Series championship by winning the pole for Sunday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kenseth, who is attempting to win his second title in NASCAR's premier series, turned a lap at 177.667 mph during Friday's qualifying for his third pole of the season and the 11th of his career. It's also his first pole at this 1.5- mile South Florida track. Kenseth won the 2007 race here. His first Cup championship came in 2003.
"Today was a really successful day for us," Kenseth said. "I think we have a lot of work to do tomorrow (Saturday's final practice) to make sure we have what we need for Sunday. Great place to start. It's always nice to get that first pit stall and hopefully get some bonus points early."
Johnson will start seventh in his attempt to win a sixth championship in the series. He enters this race with a comfortable 28-point lead over Kenseth and a 34-point advantage over Kevin Harvick, who will roll off from the sixth spot.
"I thought my line selection was real good, but I was off just a little bit on balance," Johnson said of his qualifying lap. "It was still a solid performance. We're in the top-10, which was the goal for our 48 car. We'll take this."
Five days ago, Kenseth had one of his worst performances of the season at Phoenix, finishing 23rd. He had been just seven points behind Johnson. Harvick remained in title contention with his Phoenix victory. Johnson finished third there.
Regardless of where Kenseth, Harvick or any other driver finishes at Homestead, Johnson will clinch the championship with a finish of 23rd or better, 24th or higher and at least one lap led or 25th or better and the most laps led.
"We can't really control what they (Johnson's team) do, and they usually don't run 23rd or 24th without any problems, so really I think we just concentrate 100 percent on our car," Kenseth said. "We'll try to do everything we can and go out there and run up front. Hopefully, we'll have a shot at winning the race or finish as high as we can, so if they do have any kind of problems, we're there to capitalize on that."
Kurt Busch qualified second, followed by Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, who clinched his first Sprint Cup title one year ago at Homestead, and Denny Hamlin.
Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler were eighth through 10th, respectively. All 43 drivers who attempted qualifying made the starting field for Sunday's race, which is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m. ET.