Ricky Stenhouse Jr. nabs his first Sprint Cup pole for Sunday’s night race in Atlanta

Jay Busbee

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Sprint Cup career took another step forward on Friday, as Stenhouse won the first Sprint Cup pole of his career at Atlanta. Stenhouse's lap of 189.688 mph just barely edged out teammate Carl Edwards, who turned a lap of 189.021. Previously, Stenhouse's best qualifying effort was third at Kansas.

Stenhouse and team owner Jack Roush had initially determined that the low line would be the fastest around the track. Even after Carl Edwards and others clocked speedy laps going high, Stenhouse decided to stay low ... and it paid off.

"So the problem is Jack told him to run the bottom," Edwards said. "I ran the top and I thought the top was the deal ... They joked on TV and asked me what I thought he should do and I said, ‘Oh yeah, he should run the bottom,’ because I thought there was no way he’ll beat us if he runs the bottom, and there he did it."

"It’s good to get something accomplished this year," Stenhouse said. "We’ve not gotten much accomplished of what we thought we should or the goals that we were setting out to reach, but I felt really good about our race car."

Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin will be in the second row for Sunday night's AdvoCare 500. Also in the top 10: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Both Truex and Hamlin were driving with injuries suffered last week at Bristol.

Many of the drivers seemed in a loose mood as the weekend approached. When asked what impressed him most about his run, Denny Hamlin replied, "That I didn't wreck? I've been doing a lot of that lately." Truex wryly noted on Twitter that he was tweeting left-handed courtesy of the injury to his right hand.

The Atlanta race represents one of the last chances for several big names to make the Chase. Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Gordon are all on the outside looking in, without a win between them.