Last week, Brian Vickers put his Toyota on the pole at Michigan, in the heart of the American auto industry.

With NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series moving to California, the home away from home for the Japanese auto maker, Friday's result was no different: Vickers' Camry on the pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Vickers, who picked up 0.65 seconds from his fastest practice time earlier in the day, covered the 1.99-mile, ten-turn road course in 76.475 seconds (93.678 mph) to knock Kyle Busch, last year's winner, out of the top spot. Busch will start second, thanks to a lap at 93.415 mph.

Australian Marcos Ambrose (93.138 mph) qualified third, followed by Cup points leader Tony Stewart (93.039 mph) and Kasey Kahne (92.991 mph), last year's pole winner at Infineon. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, road-course specialist Boris Said and Matt Kenseth will start from positions six through ten, respectively.

Vickers said a variety of factors allowed him to gain significant speed during his qualifying run.

"It was a combination of a lot of things," said Vickers, who is on the pole for a Cup race for the ninth time in his career. "We ran a lot more tape on the car, which does help. Some of it was the changes we made. We made a couple of changes that I think dramatically improved our forward drive off the corner.

"That can reward (you) in a lot of time. Turning a little bit better in the centre doesn't always reward in a huge (decrease) in time, whereas drive-off does. The track was probably a little bit quicker, and I didn't make any mistakes. I don't think I did anything special - I didn't find some particular line - I just didn't make any mistakes at any turn around the racetrack, and when all that adds up, it turned out to be a pretty good lap."

Busch, who typically hates to settle for second in any racing endeavour, was upbeat in his post-qualifying interview session.

"It was a really good run for us," Busch said. "I wasn't expecting to run that great, but the car drove well. It really accelerated off the turns pretty well."

Even though Busch felt he lost time through the final four turns, he was happy with the front-row starting position.

"It was still an awesome run for this whole team. All these guys worked so hard. We went and tested, just shook the car down. We feel like we made a lot of gains last year here and just kept those in the car for this year. We're excited about qualifying second today."

Vickers' team-mate, Scott Speed, had a top-five qualifying run in the works until he slid off course late in the lap. Outside the top 35 in owner points and therefore not guaranteed a starting spot, Speed failed to qualify, but an 11th-hour deal should put him in the race.

Pending NASCAR's approval, Speed, who is locked in a tight battle for Raybestos Rookie of the Year with Joey Logano, will take the wheel of the #87 Chevrolet that Joe Nemechek qualified in 31st position.

Speed also drove Nemechek's car after failing to qualify in May at Darlington. Speed would have to start from the rear of the field because of the driver change.

It was a disappointing qualifying session for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson in eleventh paced the organisation, followed by Jeff Gordon (13th), Mark Martin (14th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (35th).

Tom Hubert, Chris Cook and Brian Simo also failed to qualify, as the road-course ringers in general put forth a lacklustre effort. Ron Fellows, who starts 29th, was second fastest among the specialists.

By Reid Spencer/Sporting News