Marco Andretti leapt to the top of the timesheets early in qualifying for the the MAVTV 500 on Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, to put him on pole position for the IZOD IndyCar Series 2012 season finale.
"It means a lot with what we have been going through this year," said Andretti. "It's just been a very trying year for me and my career. It's good for the confidence, giving credit to his crew. "The whole Andretti Autosport team is just taking a huge step up this year."
Andretti set the fastest single lap in qualifying with a speed of 217.934mph (33.0375s) before finally setting a two-lap average of 216.069mph just 0.011mph ahead of Ryan Briscoe who set a two-lap qualifying effort that was just 0.0032s slower than the polesitter.
Andretti's second pole position in the series, his first since claiming the top spot at Milwaukee in 2008, means that nether of the two championship contenders manage to lay claim to what had potentially been crucial bonus points for pole going into Saturday night's title decider.
Will Power - who goes into the race 17pts ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay - set the third fastest two-lap average speed (215.940mph), while his rival was almost a second slower when he set the 17th fastest time of the session.
However, both men will have ten-place grid penalties for engine changes, as will at least 12 other drivers. That will put Power down into 13th place and Hunter-Reay back near the rear of the grid once all the penalties are worked through.
"Not a great qualifying run for us but it's a 500-mile race so really not that bummed about it," said Hunter-Reay, who admitted that the team hadn't done much work on raw qualifying speed so far this weekend. "We've been focusing on the race, though. That's the big thing."
Power added, "It's one of those races where you can be a half-lap down and come back to win the race," which earned a quip from Hunter-Reay that he'd be very pleased indeed if he could have Power starting half a lap back tomorrow evening.
Tony Kanaan will inherit third place starting alongside JR Hildebrand. Dario Franchitti was the first man out to qualify but reported massive oversteer in turn 2, leaving him 19th in the timesheets but due to start ten spots higher on the grid after all the penalties are taken into account.