By DAVE SKRETTA, Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Every championship contender knew that starting position would be paramount at repaved Kansas Speedway, where getting to the front after the green flag drops could present a problem.
Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer will have the luxury of starting there.
Kahne earned the pole for Sunday's race by shattering the track record with a lap of 191.360 mph, and Bowyer qualified behind Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Mark Martin in third Friday.
"That was a fast lap," Bowyer said, basically summing up the lap turned by everyone. "It's unreal how much that gets your attention."
Kahne is fifth in points with five races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, while Bowyer is fourth after his win last week at Charlotte. Both of them are chasing leader Brad Keselowski, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
"It's hammer-down, man," said Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan. "Looking forward to practice tomorrow. I think we've done a good job so far. Still got a long ways to go."
Not as far to go as Keselowski.
He'll be one of the drivers trying to meander their way through the field over the repaved surface after qualifying 25th. The only Chase driver to qualify worse was three-time champion Tony Stewart, will start 33rd for Sunday's race.
"We just have more work than we wanted," Keselowski said. "Track position is important. If you don't qualify well, you just have to make sure that your car is fast in race trim, and that's what we'll try to do tomorrow."
All 43 cars in the field broke the previous track record 180.856 mph set by Matt Kenseth in 2005, though that came as no surprise. Drivers were turning laps in excess of 190 during practice, and cars were approaching 205 mph before letting up entering the corners.
Speeds not seen over the track since IndyCars were running on it.
"All the drivers are high-fiving each other because we came back here alive," joked Kyle Busch, who qualified fourth. "The minimum speed through the corner is amazing."
Johnson, who will start seventh, said he was "as brave as I could be."
"You're just driving your guys out and doing everything you can all the way around," he said. "You know it's fast. You just don't know if it's fast enough."
Kansas Speedway underwent a massive renovation over the summer that replaced the old, worn-out surface with new pavement while creating variable banking in the corners. It was a necessary step after massive chunks of asphalt chipped off the track during the April race weekend.
Still, the decision was met with consternation from many drivers who have seen multiple lanes and the ability to pass disappear at other tracks that have undergone resurfacing projects.
Martin said he's concerned that one lane along the bottom of the track will make it difficult to pass. That's been the case at some other repaved tracks.
"It's a new track now. I mean, it really is, and we're going to have to learn as we go," Martin said. "We can't find out tomorrow in practice what the track is going to be like Sunday. It's just not going to happen. This track is coming in very slowly."
Hamlin qualified ninth after wrecking the car he intended to use for Sunday's race when he clipped the wall entering Turn 1 near the start of testing on Thursday.
Hamlin wound up making two visits to the infield care center before he was cleared by medical staff to resume testing. He unloaded the car he used at Chicago, where he was in contention for the win, and was good enough to post a lap of 190.718.
"You always have a rebound time that you got to have to get your senses back. The trust in the car and everything is back," Hamlin said. "It's not the car we wanted to race originally, but it's not too bad."
Regan Smith will start 40th in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is missing his second straight race. Earnhardt pulled himself from the car after sustaining two concussions in a six-week span — the first during a tire test at Kansas, the second during a massive wreck at Talladega.
Smith was seventh-fastest in practice but got sideways during his qualifying lap Friday.
AJ Allmendinger qualified 13th in his second race with Phoenix Racing. The team had been slated to use Smith for the final six races of the season after Kurt Busch left early to get a start on next year's job with Furniture Row Racing.
Hendrick Motorsports wanted Smith to fill-in for Earnhardt, though, and Allmendinger got his first opportunity since his July suspension for failing a random drug test. He completed NASCAR's recovery program and was reinstated in September.
Busch, meanwhile, qualified 29th for Furniture Row.
"This place is really fast right now, so when you kind of are in practice, you get that rhythm of going out there," Allmendinger said. "We definitely have good speed and track position is going to be everything, so it's the way that is going to play out."
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