KANSAS CITY, Kansas - Juan Pablo Montoya went from first to almost worst thanks to a problem found in post-qualifying inspection Friday at Kansas Speedway.
Montoya had turned a lap a 172.150 mph that would have earned him his first Sprint Cup Series pole, but the time was disallowed because the gas pressure in the rear shocks of his No. 42 Dodge was found to exceed the maximum allowed by NASCAR.
That moved Jimmie Johnson to the pole for Sunday's Camping World RV 400 on a day when only two of the 12 drivers in the Chase for Sprint Cup earned top-10 starting spots. Johnson's speed was 172.007 mph.
"It's huge," Montoya said about his lap before the speed was disallowed. "We're working so hard. ...It's exciting to see where the team is going and all of the progress we've made in the past few weeks."
But instead of getting something good to show for all that hard work, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates-owned team now finds itself in the soup with NASCAR. Teams are allowed 75 pounds per square inch of nitrogen pressure in the rear shocks. NASCAR did not say by how much Montoya's car exceeded that.
Brian Pattie, Montoya's crew chief, was suspended for six races and fined $35,000 in 2005 after NASCAR said the tires on Reed Sorenson's Busch Series car had an unapproved substance rubbed on them by a crew member before qualifying at Bristol.
Had Montoya's time stood, it would have crystallized attention on the drivers who're not in NASCAR's version of a playoff at a track where a non-Chase driver has won in three of the four years the Chase has been in place. Only 2005 winner Mark Martin won here while in the Chase. When Joe Nemechek won in 2004, Tony Stewart in 2006 and Greg Biffle in 2007, none was in the playoff.
Martin moved up to the No. 2 starting spot with Montoya's disqualification. It's the sixth time this year he's started second. Martin has not won a pole for a Cup Series race since May 2001 at Richmond.
"When I qualify second or third and don't have anybody ask me any questions, or finish in the top five two weeks in a row and not even get interviewed after the race that seems different from the way I remember it," Martin said after his lap at 171.767 mph, speaking of the focus on those running for the title.
"It's OK, it's what it is. I am a fan, too, so I am watching the Chase."
He'll have to use his rear-view mirror to see all of the Chase drivers except Johnson on Sunday. Matt Kenseth will start third, but nobody else among the playoff competitors came close to doing that well.
Biffle, who has opened the Chase with victories at New Hampshire and Dover, will start 18th. Carl Edwards, who leads Johnson and Biffle by 10 points atop the standings, starts 34th.
"It doesn't mean this is a lay-up weekend and we're going to pick up points on the others," said Johnson, who is going for a third straight title. "But every little bit helps."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 11th, Jeff Gordon 13th, Clint Bowyer 24th, Kyle Busch 27th, Denny Hamlin 30th, Kevin Harvick 36th, Jeff Burton 37th and Stewart 41st.
Bill Elliott was fastest among the go-or-go-home cars with a lap at 170.989 mph that puts him seventh on Sunday's starting grid behind Johnson, Martin, Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard. Kasey Kahne was eighth, Brian Vickers ninth and Casey Mears 10th.
Michael McDowell and Johnny Sauter failed to make the race.