Red Bull's championship leader Sebastian Vettel will start the US Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday with the German perfectly placed to secure his third Formula One title in succession.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who is 10 points behind with two races remaining including Sunday's, could set only the ninth fastest time in Saturday's qualifying.
Vettel, who dominated all three practice sessions at the sport's newest venue, will have McLaren's Lewis Hamilton alongside on the front row.
Alonso will move up a position to eighth as Lotus' Romain Grosjean will drop five places from fourth after being penalised for a gearbox change.
The Spaniard has to finish within 15 points of Vettel to ensure the title fight goes down to the wire in Brazil next weekend, but clearly faces an uphill battle to achieve that on the evidence so far.
Vettel, however, is only just ahead of Lewis Hamilton who produced a stunning performance to finish just a tenth of a second adrift down.
The Englishman will start on the dirty side of the grid which is a distinct disadvantage on this track.
The conditions - a combination of Pirelli opting for the harder two of the four dry compounds available and the glasslike nature of the new track - resulted in all three sessions proving hectic.
It allowed the drivers to stay out on track, putting in lap after lap with the aim of allowing the circuit and the rubber to come together, at least giving the American fans their money's worth.
It is why the inside line down the home straight will prove tough for anybody in their bid to get away, meaning Hamilton will come under pressure from third-on-the-grid Mark Webber in his Red Bull.
With Grosjean penalised, Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen moves up to fourth, followed by Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.
On the fifth row of the grid, Grosjean will be joined by Williams' Pastor Maldonado just behind him in 10th.
McLaren's current fallibility struck again in Q2, with Jenson Button on the receiving end on this occasion as he complained of a loss of power with three minutes remaining of the 15.
At that stage he was eighth, and it was inevitable he would drop out of the top 10, the Briton eventually falling to 12th behind Williams' Bruno Senna.
Force India's Paul di Resta found himself out-qualified by Hulkenberg for the fourth consecutive race, finishing 0.6secs adrift and will start 13th.
Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne starts from his best grid slot of 14th since the fifth race of the year in Spain, lining up ahead of Sauber duo Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi.
For Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, the German starts a dismal 17th as he found himself comfortably out-paced by Schumacher for once this year.
For only the second time this season Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it out of Q1 in his Toro Rosso and will start 18th.
Behind him, however, there was a triumph for Marussia as both Timo Glock and Charles Pic out-qualified the Caterhams of Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen.
On the final row, the HRTs will start the race as there were fears they would be outside the 107% time.
With fears they will fold following next weekend's race in Brazil due to financial woes, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan made the cut, despite the latter stopping on track towards the end.