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'Front Row Joe' returns to old form

Joe Nemechek has rediscovered that old qualifying magic.

"Front Row Joe" went four years without winning a pole but now has two in a row after leading qualifying Friday for the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.

The eighth pole of his career wasn't easy, though.

"That's as close as you can be to out of control and still have control of the race car," Nemechek said after taking the spot starting spot for Sunday's Banquet 400 with a lap of 180.156 mph.

Nemechek, whose pole last week was his first since October of 2000, ended the drought last week at Talladega. He went on to finish seventh in the race, leaving him 24th in the series standings.

"We've been good all year," said Nemechek, who drives a Chevrolet. "Our finishes haven't shown how good we've been, but we're on a roll now."

It's the first time Nemechek has won two straight poles.

Evernham Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield were the closest to him Friday. Rookie Kahne, also second in Busch Series qualifying earlier in the day, turned a lap of 179.253. Mayfield, fastest of the 10 drivers racing for the Nextel Cup championship, ran 179.188.

Another title contender, Jimmie Johnson, was next at 179.045, followed by Bobby Labonte at 178.891, Greg Biffle at 178.453, and contenders Ryan Newman, the defending race winner, at 178.424, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 178.389.

Earnhardt will go into Sunday's race trailing series leader Kurt Busch by 12 points after NASCAR docked Junior 25 earlier this week for cursing during a live TV interview after his victory last Sunday at Talladega.

Junior was pretty happy with his qualifying effort after struggling on similar 1 1/2-mile ovals earlier this year. And he's still smarting from being knocked out of first place by NASCAR's penalty with seven of 10 races remaining in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

"What I did was not correct, but I don't think it's fair to take points off the scoreboard," Earnhardt said. "Still, we've got a lot of racing left to do and we'll try to make sure those 25 points don't make any difference when it's over."

Busch, the only driver in the title chase to have finished among the top five in each of the first three races, was 22nd in qualifying. Third-place Jeff Gordon was a very disappointing 30th.

Among the other contenders, Elliott Sadler was 11th, defending series champion Matt Kenseth 15th, Mark Martin 18th and Tony Stewart 20th.

MR. GOODCENTS 300: At Kansas City, Kan., Paul Menard won his first NASCAR Busch Series pole, edging Kahne by two-thirds of a second Friday at Kansas Speedway. Menard took the pole for the Mr. Goodcents 300 with a top lap of 176.062 mph in a Chevrolet. Kahne — going for his third straight pole — drove his Dodge around the 1 1/2-mile tri-oval at 175.684. Menard, whose best previous start was eighth in April at Talladega, won the pole in his eighth start in a car co-owned by Chance 2 Motrosports and Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"We definitely had all the tools there," Menard said. "It was just kind of up to (crew chief) Tony Gibson and myself to try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together."

Chevrolets took eight of the top 10 spots, with Kahne and David Stremme — starting ninth in a Dodge — the only exceptions.

Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch will start on the second row Saturday, followed in the top 10 by Martin Truex Jr., Ron Hornaday, Blake Feese, Mike Bliss, Stremme and David Green.

Gordon missed a front-row start by .0002 of a second. He is driving the same car he took to his only Busch victory this season, last month in Richmond.

"Every time we run this car, we qualify in the top 10 and have a chance to win the race," Gordon said. "It's pretty exciting."

Mike McLaughlin, starting 13th, had the highest-qualifying Ford.

Feese was a late replacement for Jason Leffler, who was third in the standings but was fired earlier this week by Haas CNC Racing. Leffler lost his court challenge Friday morning, when a judge overturned a restraining order that would have kept anyone but him from driving the No. 00 Chevrolet.

"I really haven't been caught up in the middle of all that," said Feese, hired after winning two ARCA races this season. "If they would have had to put Jason back in it, I would have understood."