HOMESTEAD — Game on.
With a pole run Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Matt Kenseth sent a clear message to NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth isn't about to go down in the Chase for the Championship without a fight.
Touring the 1½-mile speedway in 30.394 seconds (177.667 mph), Kenseth drove the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to his third pole this year (tying his career best), his first at Homestead and the 11th of his career.
Trailing Johnson by 28 points entering Sunday's season finale, the Ford EcoBoost 400, Kenseth starts six positions ahead of Johnson, who qualified seventh at 176.598 mph.
Nevertheless, Kenseth doesn't expect to have a shot at the championship unless Johnson has trouble. Johnson will lock up his sixth title if he finishes 23rd or better, 24th with a lap led or 25th with most laps led.
"All we can do is control the (No.) 20," Kenseth said. "My team did a wonderful job of that (Friday). The car was way better than I was all day, so I could give it a decent lap and get some of the speed out of the car."
Johnson likes his chances but knows he must finish.
"It's a great position to be in," he said. "There's no doubt about it. I think back to the old points system (pre-2011), what that number would equal. That's a big number, so it's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday, and that's really the goal."
Kevin Harvick, who is third in the standings and, 34 points behind Johnson, the only other driver with a mathematical chance at the title, qualified sixth at 176.655 mph.
Richmond reverberations: NASCAR president Mike Helton believes the series took appropriate action against those involved in a cheating scandal before the start of the Chase.
The penalties levied after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, where NASCAR said Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the race to get Martin Truex into the Chase, sent a clear message to the garage, he said: No more orders to benefit a teammate.
"It was a defining moment," Helton said. "I suspect that that moment will be reflected on for many years to come, but the decisions that we made, the reaction in the industry that self polices itself is indicative of our environment, and we've kind of moved on from that."
Clint Bowyer's spin with seven laps left at Richmond set in motion a chain of events that cost Ryan Newman the win, denied Newman and Jeff Gordon spots in the Chase and got Truex, Bowyer's MWR teammate into the field.
NASCAR fined MWR, suspended general manager Ty Norris, replaced Truex in the Chase field with Newman and added Gordon as a 13th driver in the Chase.
Truex has since signed with Furniture Row Racing for 2014.
Hornish's plans: Sam Hornish, who heads into today's Nationwide series finale with no job lined up for 2014, said he has no interest in returning to IndyCar to replace the newly retired Dario Franchitti. Hornish said Chip Ganassi Racing reached out to his representatives this week when Franchitti was told by doctors he can no longer race. Hornish won three IndyCar championships and the 2006 Indianapolis 500, all driving for Roger Penske, before leaving for NASCAR in 2008. "I've said it a million times: I did everything over there that I wanted to do, and way more," Hornish said when asked about the possibility of returning to IndyCar. Hornish, who drives for Penske full time in NASCAR's second-tier series, goes into the Ford EcoBoost 300 trailing Austin Dillon by eight points in the championship race.