Chicagoland NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson starts Chase with pole

Jimmie Johnson will start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase from pole position after leading Saturday's qualifying for the play-off opener at Chicagoland

Chicagoland NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson starts Chase with pole

The Hendrick Motorsports driver claimed his second pole of the season and his 11th for a Chase event. Johnson beat the previous benchmark set earlier in the session by Richard Petty's Aric Almirola by four hundredths of a second.

Johnson's run came halfway through qualifying and stood unbeaten after another 24 cars completed their runs.

Although Johnson had a previous pole at Chicagoland, he had never started the Chase opener from the top spot. On Sunday he kicks off his quest for a sixth Cup title from the best possible position.

"It's a great start obviously for the weekend, track position is so important and pit road is as everyone knows," said Johnson. "We did everything good today, which I'm excited about.

"We've been saying all along that we're ready for this Chase to start and to go out and prove it today was a step in the right direction."

Almirola was the best of four non Chasers who qualified among the top 10. Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth and Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr will start from the second row of the grid, ahead of their respective team-mates Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne - the latter among the most consistent in Friday's final practice.

Chase leader Denny Hamlin was eighth fastest in qualifying and was the only play-off contender who ranked among the top five in both of Friday's practice sessions, which were each led by Michael Waltrip's Martin Truex Jr and Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch.

Reigning champion Tony Stewart was only 29th fastest but fellow Chaser Kevin Harvick was the slowest of the title contenders, finishing the session in 35th.

Trevor Bayne was the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in 14th while Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, JJ Yeley and Jason Leffler failed to make the field.

Click here for AUTOSPORT's analysis of the 12 Chase contenders' title prospects

Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 29.530s 2. Aric Almirola Petty Ford 29.567s + 0.037s 3. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 29.616s + 0.086s 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 29.659s + 0.129s 5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 29.663s + 0.133s 6. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 29.675s + 0.145s 7. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 29.678s + 0.148s 8. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota 29.682s + 0.152s 9. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 29.694s + 0.164s 10. Joey Logano Joe Gibbs Toyota 29.731s + 0.201s 11. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 29.733s + 0.203s 12. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 29.748s + 0.218s 13. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 29.751s + 0.221s 14. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford 29.776s + 0.246s 15. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota 29.792s + 0.262s 16. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge 29.793s + 0.263s 17. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford  29.826s + 0.296s 18. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 29.836s + 0.306s 19. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 29.855s + 0.325s 20. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 29.879s + 0.349s 21. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota 29.883s + 0.353s 22. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 29.913s + 0.383s 23. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 29.923s + 0.393s 24. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 29.954s + 0.424s 25. Scott Speed Leavine Ford 29.965s + 0.435s 26. Landon Cassill BK Toyota 29.980s + 0.450s 27. Casey Mears Germain Ford 29.992s + 0.462s 28. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 30.010s + 0.480s 29. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 30.018s + 0.488s 30. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet 30.055s + 0.525s 31. David Stremme Inception Toyota 30.071s + 0.541s 32. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 30.072s + 0.542s 33. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 30.077s + 0.547s 34. Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 30.078s + 0.548s 35. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 30.091s + 0.561s 36. Cole Whitt Circle Sport Chevrolet 30.094s + 0.564s 37. David Ragan Front Row Ford 30.123s + 0.593s 38. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota 30.170s + 0.640s 39. TJ Bell FAS Lane Ford 30.508s + 0.978s 40. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 30.560s + 1.030s 41. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 30.649s + 1.119s 42. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 30.676s + 1.146s 43. Josh Wise Front Row Ford 30.140s + 0.610s Did not qualify: Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 30.291s + 0.761s Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Chevrolet 30.343s + 0.813s JJ Yeley Max Q Chevrolet 30.347s + 0.817s Jason Leffler Robinson-Blakeney Toyota 30.386s + 0.856s 
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