Matt Kenseth claims poll for first Chase race

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) -- Matt Kenseth will open the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on the pole at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kenseth had the fastest qualifying lap Saturday with a speed of 183.243 mph in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. It easily held off Paul Menard, who turned a lap at 183.125 in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch, who qualified third at 183.032 in a Penske Racing Dodge.

It's just the sixth pole in 12 full seasons for Kenseth, and second this year. And with track position so critical, it puts him in position for a strong run in the opening race of the 10-event Chase.

"My cars have just been fast and driving really good," Kenseth said. "I have always tried really hard. I have probably done a little better job at not overdriving the car. That has been a fault of mine in qualifying in the past, overdriving and driving the corner too hard and messing up the rest of the corner.

"Back in the day when it was easier to pass it probably wasn't as important to us as it is today. Maybe I am a little better at it, but the main thing is the cars have been really fast."

Busch, winner of the inaugural 2004 Chase, was pleased to qualify third.

"It was a great qualifying effort for us. We feel like getting off to a strong start in the Chase is important, and it starts with qualifying," Busch said.

Chase drivers took spots four through six, as Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski kept Kenseth in sight.

"That is a fast lap for (Kenseth)," noted Edwards of his RFR teammate.

Non-Chase drivers Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers were seventh and eighth, and points co-leader Kyle Busch was ninth. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano, who is not Chase eligible, rounded out the top 10.

Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 12th, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was 23rd, Tony Stewart qualified 26th and Denny Hamlin was 27th.

Stewart, who struggled through two Friday practice sessions, felt his Chevrolet had improved in part to it being 11 degrees warmer Saturday than it was Friday.

"It was much better than we were yesterday," he said. "Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer, so that will help us some more."

Kevin Harvick was the lowest qualifying Chase driver at 30th.

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