By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Game on.
With a pole-winning run on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Matt Kenseth sent a clear message to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth isn't about to go down in the championship battle without a fight.
Touring the 1.5-mile speedway at 177.667 mph, Kenseth drove the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to his third pole of the year (tying his season career best), his first at Homestead and the 11th of his career.
Trailing Johnson by 28 points entering the Ford EcoBoost 400, the season finale in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kenseth will start six positions ahead of Johnson, who qualified seventh at 176.598 mph.
Nevertheless, Kenseth doesn't expect to have a shot at the championship unless Johnson has trouble. Johnson will lock up his sixth title if he finishes 23rd or better, 24th with a lap led or 25th with most laps led.
"All we can do is control the (number) 20," Kenseth said. "My team did a wonderful job of that today. The car was way better than I was all day, so I could give it a decent lap and get some of the speed out of the car.
"I think that's a start of it. Even though this is a really great track -- it's really, really wide with a lot of grooves, you can really pass -- it's (still) hard to pass these days, and track position's really important. We can't really control what they do. They don't usually run 23rd or 24th without any problem.
"So, really, I just think we concentrate 100 percent on the 20, try to do everything we can to go out there and run up front, hopefully have a shot to win the race, finish as high as we can, so if they do have any kind of problem, we're there to capitalize on that."
For his part, Johnson likes his chances but knows he must finish the race.
"It's a great position to be in," Johnson said. "There's no doubt about it. I think back to the old points system (pre-2011), what that number would equal.
"That's a big number, so it's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday and that's really the goal for this Lowe's car."
Kevin Harvick -- third in the standings, 34 points behind Johnson and the only other driver with a mathematical chance at the title -- qualified sixth at 176.655 mph.
In the competition for the pole, Kenseth edged Kurt Busch (177.445 mph), who will start from the front row for the ninth time this year (one pole and eight seconds in qualifying). Joey Logano (177.282 mph) claimed the third spot on the grid, followed by Brad Keselowski (177.061 mph) and Denny Hamlin (176.846 mph).
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - Ford EcoBoost 400
Friday, November 15, 2013
1. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 177.667 mph.
2. (78) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 177.445 mph.
3. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 177.282 mph.
4. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 177.061 mph.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 176.846 mph.
6. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 176.655 mph.
7. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 176.598 mph.
8. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 176.436 mph.
9. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 176.436 mph.
10. (55) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 176.413 mph.
11. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 176.355 mph.
12. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 176.355 mph.
13. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 176.304 mph.
14. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 175.747 mph.
15. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 175.730 mph.
16. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 175.690 mph.
17. (21) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 175.507 mph.
18. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 175.433 mph.
19. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 175.376 mph.
20. (51) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 175.353 mph.
21. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 175.347 mph.
22. (14) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 175.273 mph.
23. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 175.109 mph.
24. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 175.092 mph.
25. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 174.780 mph.
26. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 174.610 mph.
27. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 174.537 mph.
28. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 174.329 mph.
29. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 174.317 mph.
30. (30) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 173.171 mph.
31. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 173.099 mph.
32. (83) David Reutimann, Toyota, 172.563 mph.
33. (93) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 172.287 mph.
34. (98) Michael McDowell, Ford, 172.260 mph.
35. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 172.046 mph.
36. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Toyota, 171.734 mph.
37. (36) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (7) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Owner Points
39. (33) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (13) Casey Mears, Ford, Owner Points
41. (32) Ken Schrader, Ford, Owner Points
42. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points
43. (40) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, Owner Points