By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Five years after he won his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole, Casey Mears will start from the top spot for Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It was a fast car that put Mears on the pole Friday. It was a slow-moving thunderstorm that washed out time trials and forced NASCAR to start the race, as the rule book dictates, based on speeds from the first practice session.
Mears topped the speed chart at 122.209 mph in qualifying trim in Friday's opening practice, thereby earning the top spot on the grid.
"It's been a long couple of years but the team's grown in strides," said Mears, a sometimes start-and-park driver who plans to run the entire race at Bristol. "We've shown a lot of improvement, but still have a lot to learn. ... It gives us a big head-start from where we've been in the past."
Brad Keselowski will start second, followed by Cup points leader Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. Aric Almirola, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch will take the green flag from positions five through 10, respectively.
Mears has three career poles, the last coming in 2007 at Chicagoland Speedway, in a car owned by Rick Hendrick. Mears won his first two poles with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2004, at Pocono and Indianapolis.
Jimmie Johnson, who was 41st fastest of 47 drivers in practice, will start 37th, because four drivers ahead of him on the speed chart -- Scott Speed, Kelly Bires, Reed Sorenson and JJ Yeley -- failed to make the field under NASCAR's rainout rules, which feature the number of qualifying attempts and owner points position as the first two tiebreakers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., third in the series standings, will start 16th, followed by Matt Kenseth, who is second in points, 20 behind Biffle, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate. Danica Patrick, who was slowest in both Friday practice sessions but has a guaranteed spot in the field on owner points, will start 43rd.