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Stewart tops in Atlanta qualifying

7:26 PM, Aug 31, 2012   |    comments
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Hampton, GA (Sports Network) - 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.

Greg Biffle, the current points leader, earned the outside pole after a lap at 185.648 mph. Kyle Busch qualified third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, who won at Atlanta one year ago.

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.

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).

The Sports Network

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