Persistent rain at Bristol Motor Speedway forced NASCAR to cancel Friday's qualifying session for the Irwin Tools Night Race.

A severe thunderstorm moved over the 0.533-mile racetrack moments prior to the start of qualifying, which was scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m. (ET). NASCAR officials made the decision to call off the session at 6:25 p.m.

Casey Mears was surprisingly the fastest in the first practice held earlier in the day. Therefore, Mears will start on the pole per NASCAR's rule book on determining the starting field when qualifying is canceled.

"The way it's structured right now, we all try to run as fast as we can the first practice, because we know how good a late draw is here at Bristol," said Mears, who's fastest lap in practice was clocked at 122.209 mph. "There are other tracks, obviously, where it wouldn't be as important, but having a late draw here always helps.

"You never want to get a pole like this, but we'll definitely take it, I can tell you that. And the other thing is you know everybody was trying to run as fast as they could in that first practice. Is there a little bit more left? I think there always is when you go to qualify, but, believe me, everybody wanted to go out last in qualifying today."

This will be the first time Mears starts on the pole in a Sprint Cup race since July 2007 at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished fifth.

Brad Keselowski, who has won the last two Sprint Cup Series races at Bristol, will start alongside Mears on the front row. Greg Biffle will start third, followed by Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.

"Bristol is always about track position, but I have had cars here in the past where you could pass and get your way up to the front," Keselowski said. "I'm not going to complain either way."

Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch will roll off sixth through 10th, respectively.

Bristol's concrete surface underwent a modification since NASCAR was last here in March. The top groove of the surface was grinded with the intention of bringing back the traditional beating and banging among competitors on this track.

After turning laps around the high-banked oval in practice, some drivers, particularly Busch, were not praising the changes.

"I think it's terrible. That's about it," Busch said.

Busch is one of several drivers contending for the two wild card positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is currently third in the wild card standings. Kasey Kahne holds the top spot, while Ryan Newman occupies the second position. Kahne will start 12th and Newman 19th. Bristol is the first of three races remaining before the Chase begins.

Carl Edwards, who is one of those in the wild card hunt, will start 27th. Edwards has yet to win a Sprint Cup race this season and is seventh in the rankings.

Jimmie Johnson will start 37th after struggling in practice. Danica Patrick also had difficulties in practice, as she had the slowest speed among the 47 drivers on the track. Patrick earned the last starting position since her No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing team is currently 33rd in owner points. She is making her fourth start in NASCAR's premier series this season.

Scott Speed, Kelly Bires, Reed Sorenson and J.J. Yeley did not qualify.

Saturday's 500-lap race at Bristol is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. (ET).