Greg Biffle edged Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne to win the pole for Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Biffle, who was the second-to-last driver to make his qualifying run in the 47-car field, turned a lap at 180.257 mph. The Roush Fenway Racing driver won his 11th career pole in the Sprint Cup Series, including his second at Darlington. His first pole at this track came in 2008. He led 95 laps in that race but ended up finishing 43rd due to engine failure.
Biffle is a two-time race winner at Darlington (2005 and '06).
While making his qualifying lap around this uniquely shaped 1.366-mile oval, Biffle encountered a small red balloon that blew onto the track.
"That balloon caught me more off guard than anything," he said. "I came off of turn four and saw this red thing in the middle of the track. I almost lost my concentration, but that was a pretty on-edge lap. I felt like I left it wide on the table in turns one and two, but I guess I got through three and four pretty good."
Biffle, the only driver who topped the 180 mph mark, was 0.1 seconds quicker than Johnson and Kahne, who posted identical speeds (179.566 mph). However, Johnson earned the outside pole by virtue of his higher ranking in the current car owner points.
"It was a very comfortable race car, maybe a bit too comfortable down in three and four," Johnson said. "I knew that I left a little time on the table there. I wish it were an all Hendrick front row but a solid day all in all."
Kahne will start third, followed by Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch.
"We battled it in practice and made some gains there, so hopefully we can build on that for tomorrow," Kahne said.
Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Regan Smith, the defending race winner, and Jeff Burton will roll off sixth through 10th, respectively.
Danica Patrick qualified 38th in what will be her second start in NASCAR's premier series. Patrick was the first driver in the qualifying order at Darlington since she recorded the slowest speed overall during the two practice sessions here earlier in the day.
"It's been very challenging," Patrick said. "We definitely struggled in the Cup car here. This was the plan to do it difficult and to come to places that are going to challenge me. I asked [driver and team co-owner] Tony [Stewart] if he was thinking straight when he put this place on the schedule."
Patrick is also competing in a Nationwide race at Darlington for the first time on Friday night. She qualified 15th for that event.
Biffle currently holds a seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is nine points out of the lead. Kenseth qualified 19th, while Earnhardt Jr. placed 24th.
Scott Riggs, Michael McDowell, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss failed to qualify for the 500-mile race at Darlington, which is scheduled to start just after 7 p.m. (ET).