CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch showed Joe Gibbs Racing may have found some speed at just the right time of the season with a pole-winning run Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch turned a lap at 197.390 mph to earn the top starting spot for Saturday night’s race. Denny Hamlin, his JGR teammate, qualified his Toyota third. Wedged in the middle was Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports, who went 197.217 to qualify his Chevrolet second.

“We’re edging our way to the top, but anything can happen in this game,” Busch said. “It’s a fickle business. You’ve got to take things one step at a time.”

Such is the nature of NASCAR’s new elimination format in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Four drivers are eliminated every three races, and several top names are in trouble as they head into the second race of the second round. Six-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski go into Saturday night’s race needing very strong runs to give themselves breathing room headed into next week’s elimination race at Talladega.

Two of the three failed to make it into the final round of Thursday night qualifying.

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