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Kahne grabs pole for final Nextel Cup race

McClatchy Newspapers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Kasey Kahne came to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the Nextel Cup season knowing he can’t win the championship, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything to shoot for.

Friday offered the opportunity for Kahne to snatch the award for poles from Kurt Busch, who was looking to keep that honor at Penske South after Ryan Newman had won it for the past four years.

Kahne did that, running a lap of 178.259 mph to win his sixth pole of the season. Busch also had six poles, but since Kahne qualified second-fastest twice and Busch did that once, Kahne claimed the year’s award.

"That’s huge," said Kahne, who also leads the circuit with six victories. "That’s a big deal, because it’s nice to know we’ve had great cars on Friday and on Sunday, too."

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Kahne won Oct.14 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but back-to-back finishes outside the top 30 at Dover, Del., and Kansas had knocked him out of title contention. He’s ninth in the standings, 319 points out of first, and among the championship afterthoughts going into the finale.

Jimmie Johnson, the driver in command of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, got the weekend off to a solid if unspectacular start.

Going out sixth among 56 cars attempting a qualifying run, Johnson ran 176.569mph in his No.48 Chevrolet. That wound up 15th best, leaving Johnson in the neighborhood of where he needs to be when Sunday’s race ends. If Johnson finishes 12th or better Sunday,(he’ll clinch the title.

With a win and four second-place finishes in the past five races, Johnson has crafted a 63-point edge over Matt Kenseth, a 90-point lead over Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin and a 115-point edge over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"We’re excited just to get to work," said Johnson, who qualified 39th-fastest and 32nd-fastest at Homestead the past two years. "We want to get out there and do the job we’ve been working so hard on. That’s the best lap we’d had all day."

It was better than Kenseth’s lap, by just a bit. Kenseth ran 176.344mph and will start 19th.

"For what we ran in practice, that was a really good lap," Kenseth said. "I hope we’ll have a good car for Sunday, but we’ll have to wait and see."

Harvick had the best lap among the drivers mathematically alive in the championship hunt, going 177.270mph to earn the No.7 spot. Earnhardt Jr. will start 14th and Hamlin will line up 33rd.

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Kahne, however, wasn’t the only Evernham Motorsports team with a fast Dodge on Friday. Scott Riggs ran 178.281mph in his No.10 and will start alongside Kahne on the front row.

Jeff Burton, the points leader halfway through the 10-race Chase who has since slipped into seventh place, was fifth-fastest Friday, followed by Brian Vickers, Harvick, J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland and Clint Bowyer.

Former Formula One driver and Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya earned the right to make his Nextel Cup deb 3/4t with a lap at 175.581 mph that gave him the 29th starting spot.

"It was stressful," Montoya said of the wait to see if his speed would stand up as 13 cars not guaranteed starting spots were destined to go home. "You don’t want to come here and look like an idiot by not making the show."

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