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NASCAR

Stewart tops in Atlanta qualifying

Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart claimed his first pole of the season after posting the quickest lap in Friday's qualifying for the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stewart, who was the third-to-last driver to qualify in the 47-car field, turned a lap at 186.121 mph for his 14th career pole in NASCAR's premier series. His most recent pole came last October at Charlotte.

"That lap was 100 percent due to (Stewart-Haas Racing teammate) Ryan Newman," Stewart said. "He walked over to help us before we went out and said, 'There's a ton of grip up there, so you just got to do it.'

It's the first time in 26 races that Stewart has won the pole at this 1.5-mile racetrack. He is a three-time race winner here, with his most recent victory coming in Sept. 2010.

"This has always been a fun place," Stewart added. "The slicker it gets the more fun it gets. At least we've got a great starting spot for this now."

Greg Biffle, the current points leader, earned the outside pole after a lap at 185.648 mph.

"The car was pretty good," Biffle said. "The guys made great adjustments, and we had a lot of grip. I kind of messed it up. We were a little too tight. I kind of scrapped turn one and two a little bit and thought I did okay in three and four. I wish I had one more try at it since we were that close."

Kyle Busch qualified third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, who won at Atlanta one year ago.

"It was a solid lap," Gordon said. "I was expecting to have a little bit more grip than what we did. I came through (turns) three and four coming to take the green, and it didn't stick as good as I was hoping. I was fighting the wheel a little bit, and I was like 'Whoa, this is going to be adventurous.' This place sometimes can just gain tons of grip and really you lay down a lap and really get aggressive with it, but I wasn't able to get near as aggressive as I was hoping."

Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, last weekend's race winner at Bristol, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose completed the top-10.

Making her fifth Sprint Cup start, Danica Patrick qualified a career-best 23rd.

Martin Truex Jr., who posted the quickest lap in practice earlier in the day, qualified a disappointing 28th.

"Being quickest in practice, we quit early trying to save tires for race trim, because we get a lot of practice here and we don't have enough tires, so we put ourselves in a box here," Truex said. "I was all on board with it and thought we were doing the right thing. I went out there and didn't have any grip at all. I was really surprised."

Atlanta is the penultimate race before the cut-off for the championship Chase. The regular season will conclude on Sept. 8 at Richmond.

The top-three drivers in points -- Biffle, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified way back in 35th -- have already clinched a spot in the 12-driver Chase field. Kenseth, who is currently fourth in points, has not officially locked down his position. However, Kenseth will punch his ticket into the show with a 40th-place finish or better in Sunday night's 500-mile race at Atlanta.

Busch, Gordon, Logano and Ambrose are among those drivers fighting for the two wild card positions for the Chase. The other wild card contenders and their starting positions include: Kasey Kahne (11th), Carl Edwards (12th), Ryan Newman (17th) and Paul Menard (18th).

Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss were the drivers who failed to qualify.

Sprint Cup teams will practice again on Saturday afternoon. Sunday's race is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. (ET).