Jimmie Johnson takes pole at Phoenix

In what has pretty much become a two-man battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with two races remaining in the 2013 season, points leader Jimmie Johnson put himself ahead of the game at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday by qualifying on the pole for Sunday’s Advocare 500 with a track-qualifying record time of 25.858 seconds.

“I just have to thank everybody on this Hendrick team,” Johnson said. “This Kobalt Tools Lowe’s Chevrolet has been very good off the truck, and we were able to back it up and get it done in qualifying. I knew we had a fast car in practice, and it’s tough to back it up. It’s a very tough field and a very tough industry, and I’m proud of the effort across the board at Hendrick Motorsports to get it done today.”

Eight Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers, including Johnson, qualified in the top-10. Joey Logano was third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Jeff Gordon fifth.

“I thought the lap was okay,” Logano said. “I didn’t think it was spectacular, but it’s going to be a decent starting spot.”

Clint Bowyer was sixth, Kasey Kdahne seventh, Kurt Busch eighth, and Kevin Harvick ninth. Denny Hamlin was tops among non-Chasers, qualifying second to join Johnson on the front row for Sunday’s race. The other driver outside the Chase to qualify in the top-10 was Martin Truex Jr., who qualified 10th.

“Honestly, we didn’t get to spend that much time in qualifying, because we were so bad when we unloaded,” Hamlin said. “We made some huge strides to it. Every qualifying run we made, we got a lot faster, and obviously, this is a testament to the adjustments we made and everything was, obviously, a whole lot better.”

Kenseth, meanwhile, will have to start outside the top-10, in 14th, on Sunday. He wasn’t the only Chase for the Sprint Cup Series competitor to wind up outside the top-10 in qualifying, though. Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 11th, Ryan Newman was 17th, Greg Biffle 18th and Carl Edwards was the slowest Chaser, qualifying outside the top-20 in 23rd.

“I was just way tighter than I thought it was going to be,” Edwards said. “It’s just very frustrating. We’ll just have to work harder in the reace, but that’s pretty frustrating.”

– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

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