Nemechek upstages

Joe Nemechek, well out of the running in the season championship race, again stole the spotlight Friday, winning his second pole in a row in qualifying trials for Sunday's Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway. Nemechek, always a good qualifier, has won consecutive poles at Talladega (restricted) and Kansas (wide-open)

Nemechek upstages

Nemechek's pole speed was impressive. Under fairly steady cloud cover, Nemechek ran his best of two laps in 29.974sec (180.156mph), the only driver to break 29 seconds and 180 mph. Kasey Kahne, emerging from a troubling two weeks on-track, was 0.151sec slower at 30.125 (179.253), and team-mate Jeremy Mayfield was third at 30.136.

Nemechek's time was a fraction slower than Jimmie Johnson's track record (29.938), set last year.

Nemechek had been top-10 in morning practice but had run nothing like what he ran in the actual trials. Resurgent Ricky Rudd had led practice at 29.984, with Nemechek two-tenths slower.

"I think we ended up sixth in practice," Nemechek said. "This morning, it was incredibly fast when it was cool. We had the odds going in our favour when we qualified. We got a draw toward the back. The draw was in our favor, and we went out toward the end, when the track was cooling off a little bit."

Veteran Nemechek, 1992 Busch Series champion, is 24th in Nextel Cup points but has upstaged the championship contenders the past two weeks, at least in qualifying. Nemechek has three career victories, none this year, and eight career poles, two this year.

Perhaps more striking is that Nemechek's two poles in a row have come under entirely different circumstances. At restricted Talladega, it's all about engine and car prep. At 1.5mi Kansas, the driver gets back into it.

"It's totally different, not having a lot of banking," Nemechek said. "What's really surprising is how fast the race track is. It's pretty incredible. For not having much banking [15deg in the corners], we're fast."

NASCAR's top-10 playoff contenders largely dropped the ball, with Mayfield, Jimmie Johnson (fourth), Ryan Newman (seventh) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (eighth) the only ones of the eligibles to qualify in the top 10. Tony Stewart was 24th, Jeff Gordon 30th, and points leader Kurt Busch stumbled to 34th.

Kansas Speedway, in its five-year history, has presented track-position and mileage races. It therefore will be important for qualifying backmarkers such as Stewart, Gordon and Busch to pit their way toward the front as the race develops.

Mayfield, staggered by two bad finishes in the first three playoff races, will be looking for a rebound, as will Johnson, who stumbled from the points lead first of August to ninth in points well into the fall chase. Johnson fell out of last week's race at Talladega with a broken engine.

Carl Edwards, who wrecked in practice, rallied to qualify 16th in the back-up car.

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