Then he surprised himself with a third-place qualifying run that forced him to reconsider his race strategy.
"I am blown away, shocked, that we were top three," Bowyer said. "I thought, definitely going into today, my whole plan for the weekend was we were going to qualify poorly and ride around in the back. Well, we're in the front, and I'm going to try to stay there."
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart qualified fourth and was followed by Greg Biffle as Chase drivers took four of the top five starting sports.
Jeff Gordon was fourth, and was followed by Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Martin Truex Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr.
Truex , Bowyer's teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, said he's going to race on Sunday.
"I've been crashed here more than not, so we're going to go out there and race," he said. "We're going to have fun and we're going to try to stay up front and lead some laps and hopefully be around at the end. I've crashed here going for the lead and I've been crashed here trying to ride around in the back. So there's no safe place."
Michael Waltrip was 11th and followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., as two drivers who once dominated restrictor-plate races will start side-by-side on Sunday.
In all, Chase drivers took six of the top-10 starting spots. The other half of the Chase field is spread out all the way down to 23rd, which is where Denny Hamlin will go off on Sunday.
Matt Kenseth was 15th, Jimmie Johnson 17th, Kevin Harvick 21st and leader Keselowski 22nd.
But Keselowski, who won at Talladega in the spring by leading the last lap, wasn't worried about his starting position.