FONTANA, Calif. -- Jamie McMurray has just missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship several times, including an oh-so-close 14th-place finish this season.
On a fast-but-slick track in California, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion was able to find more speed than any of the Chase drivers.
McMurray earned his fourth pole of the season Friday, posting a fast lap of 185.285 mph around Auto Club Speedway's two-mile oval while many of the Chase drivers struggled.
"I feel like the media makes a bigger deal about the guys who aren't in the Chase and what they're using the Chase for," said McMurray, who had three career poles before this season. "We're not really doing anything different than we would have if we were in the Chase."
Elliott Sadler, another non-qualifier for the Chase, was just behind McMurray and will start on the front row Sunday in the 400-mile race.
After that, there'll be a lot of chasing by the Chasers.
Nine drivers enter the weekend within 101 points of the Chase lead, but that could change quickly if a few don't do a whole lot of passing in the wide lanes at Auto Club Speedway.
Five of the top six spots for Sunday's race will be non-Chase drivers and five drivers who made it into for the final 10-race run toward the championship qualified 20th or worse, including two who'll be near the back of the pack.
Busch, 70 points behind Johnson in sixth, labored through qualifying and will start back near the owner's points qualifiers in 38th.
Hamlin entered the weekend eight points behind Johnson and had another rough day, running nearly 5 mph slower than McMurray to qualify 34th. He lost the points lead after struggling in Kansas last week and could be tightening his grip on the steering wheel like he did with Johnson in his rearview mirror a year ago.
"If I come here and don't think we can win, then we're in trouble," Hamlin said. "I do have a number in my head, but I keep it to myself and say first-place is all that matters this weekend."
Kenseth had a nice run at a good time.
He's well back in the Chase standings (149 points behind Johnson) and hasn't been particularly strong at qualifying this season. Kenseth and his team seemed to find something Kansas, where he qualified eighth and it carried over into California.
"It was a good lap for us," Kenseth said. "Obviously, I'm usually not the best qualifier, but we made some adjustments and fixed the things I was complaining about in practice and got a good lap out of it."
Johnson is in good position to pad his lead as he races toward a fifth straight Sprint Cup championship.
He rallied from a poor qualifying session in Kansas last week and worked his way through the crowd to finish 12th and move past Hamlin in the season race. Johnson likes racing in California, too, with four of his five titles at Auto Club Speedway coming over the past six races in his home state.
"It's going to be an exciting race and honestly, I'm very excited for what it's going to be like on Sunday," Johnson said. "I think we're going to put on a good show and really race hard for this win."
So will a lot of other Chase drivers -- they'll have to after the way they qualified.