KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Daniel Hemric wasn't exactly fired. David Ragan isn't quite yet retired.
Yet the two off-the-radar drivers bested 12 playoff drivers and the rest of the Cup Series field to land on the front row for Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway. Hemric turned a fast lap of 178.047 mph to edge Ragan, who was followed by three drivers still in the championship hunt.
"I wasn't too, too pumped up about the lap I ran, but as every car went by I felt like our odds increased," said Hemric, who was told last month that Richard Childress Racing would not be picking up his option for 2020. "It's just the pole award but it's a big moment for this race team."
Childress, who already has picked Tyler Reddick to take over the No. 8 Chevrolet, nevertheless was there to give Hemric a hug when the final car finished qualifying Saturday.
It was the first career Cup Series pole for Hemric, though he sat on the pole for the Xfinity race at Kansas last season. And it gives him a big boost of confidence not only for the race but for his hopes of landing another ride in NASCAR's premier series for next season.
"My confidence hasn't really wavered one way or another," Hemric said. "But in aligning and positioning yourself for the future, this doesn't hurt any."
Ragan announced in August he was stepping away from Front Row Motorsports as a full-time driver.
"Hope we can be the fastest on Sunday, too," he said.
Rounding out the top five were playoff drivers Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson, who was back in the car after a bad wreck at Talladega that left him with hurt ribs.
Among them, only Keselowski faces a bit of playoff peril.
Blaney won at Talladega and Larson triumphed at Dover, locking up their spots in the next round, but the Penske Racing driver is seventh in points. His teammate, defending series champ Joey Logano, is just two points behind him in the final spot above the cutoff line.
"It isn't the top spot we wanted but it isn't bad either," Keselowski said. "We should be in a good spot. We think we have it dialed in for tomorrow."
There is no practice between qualifying and the race, so several playoff contenders used setups that are expected to be better in race conditions. Martin Truex Jr. was the best of the rest in 11th, followed by Chase Elliott in 14th and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman in 16th.
Despite his precarious playoff situation, Logano qualified 29th and will have a lot of ground to make up Sunday. He was last among the playoff drivers that made a qualifying lap.
Kevin Harvick never made it on the track for qualifying after some inspection issues. The team failed once, then made it through the second time, only to inspect the car itself and find a piece that made it uncomfortable. The team rolled through inspection a third time and passed, but there was not enough time for Harvick to get in line for a qualifying run.
"I have to pass a lot of cars. It is what it is at this point," he said. "You just go out and strategize and plan what you can and try to pass as many cars you can at the beginning."
After agreeing to a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing this week, Clint Bowyer arrived at his home track feeling pretty good. But the Emporia, Kansas, native struggled from the moment his team unloaded, and he qualified 21st for Sunday's race.
Elliott and Bowman had decent qualifying runs as they try to give team owner Rick Hendrick at least one car in the round of eight. Both of them are on the outside of the points cutoff heading into Kansas, along with William Byron, who will roll off 25th.
REST OF THE BEST
Michael McDowell was near the top of the speed chart until he was finally bumped to the sixth starting spot. He was followed by Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports