Joey Logano won the pole for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, as the usual suspects dominated the proceedings.
Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing, who have combined to win the last eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, were fast again on Friday evening, as they swept the front two rows in time trials.
Logano lapped the D-shaped 0.75-mile RIR oval at 126.470 miles per hour to put the No. 22 Team Penske Ford on the pole for the fifth time this year. It was Logano's 13th career No. 1 qualifying effort, as he continues to make a strong case as one of the championship favorites.
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Matt Kenseth will start on the outside of Row 1 after qualifying with a lap of 126.470 mph in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Row 2 will consist of Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski in a second Penske Ford and Kenseth's teammate, Kyle Busch, in another JGR Toyota.
David Ragan completed the top five in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, followed by defending series champion Kevin Harvick in the first of the four Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets.
Pole sitter Logano acknowledged that the Gibbs and Penske camps are fast, but insisted they aren't the only cars to beat.
"The two teams are definitely very fast right now," said Logano. "But if you look at it, the 4 (Harvick) and 41 (Kurt Busch) were very fast last week and they've been very fast. So I don't think you can count them out at all. They're pretty tough as well."
Asked if anyone not driving for Gibbs or Penske had a legitimate chance of winning on Saturday, with the weather forecast calling for possible rain, Kenseth said he wasn't sure.
"Qualifying here is one thing, racing is totally different, you know?" said Kenseth. "And even through practice today, it's a hot, sunny day. Assuming we race tomorrow night, track conditions will be totally different. I always feel like you never really know what you'll have in the race."
With Penske and Gibbs continuing to show strength, further back on the grid, the drivers were less sanguine about their respective situations.
Failing to make it out of the first of the three qualifying rounds were Denny Hamlin (25th), Clint Bowyer (26th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (29th) and Jamie McMurray (31st).
"Just real slow and out of the track," said Earnhardt. "I don't know, man, we've struggled all year in qualifying and it doesn't look like it's getting any better."
Danica Patrick made it to the second round but wound up 14th, with Martin Truex Jr. 16th, Kasey Kahne 20th and Jeff Gordon 23rd. "We're better than that," said Gordon. "I hate that for our 3M team. … That's frustrating and we'll start working on the race."
Saturday night's race is the 26th and final event in the Sprint Cup regular season and once the race is over, the 16-driver field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be locked in.
Already in the Chase by virtue of previous race victories are Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Truex and Hamlin. McMurray, the winless driver highest in points, will make the Chase just by starting the race.
That leaves the final four spots to be filled.
If a previous 2015 winner also wins on Saturday night, then Ryan Newman and Gordon will be in the Chase regardless of their Richmond finish. Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer are virtual locks if there is a repeat winner as well.
If Saturday night's race winner is someone who hasn't won already this season, Newman makes the Chase by finishing 31st or better; Gordon needs to end up 17th or better; and Menard gets in the Chase by finishing ninth or better.
Aric Almirola, Kahne, Tony Stewart and Patrick are among those drivers hoping to win the race and earn a Chase spot.
Failing to qualify were Timmy Hill and Josh Wise.