Going into arguably the most important race of his professional driving career, Carl Edwards couldn't have got a better boost or sent out a clearer message, when he sped to pole position for the Ford 400 season finale by 0.116s over Martin Truex Jr.
By contrast, his 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup title rival Tony Stewart will be starting from 15th position at Homestead-Miami Speedway, an oval that has always been a happy hunting ground for Ford drivers - and for Carl Edwards in particular.
"It is great to be on the pole," said Edwards after qualifying was over. "Things are good. Today went really well. I felt like our car was very fast in practice in race trim; I wasn't really sure what to expect in qualifying trim, but that was a very pleasant surprise to run that well ... It looked like there were a lot of fast cars in practice - it didn't look like we were head and shoulders better than anyone else."
But as delighted as he was to draw first blood in the title decider, Edwards was all too aware that this was just the start of a long battle to come on Sunday afternoon.
"I do think that of all the tracks it would be nice to have a big advantage in qualifying at some of them, but this one you can pass at, so if there are faster race cars out there, they'll be able to make it through the field," he said, far from writing off Stewart's prospects of coming right back through the field from 15th place.
"The biggest thing [about taking pole] is that pit stall selection. That's gonna be a big help the whole race. That's something that's hard to put a value on," he said, adding: "That truly is just one lap, though ... this doesn't dampen the amount of effort we're gonna go out and put forth. We still have to go out and race this race."
Equally, Tony Stewart wasn't about to let 15th place - his lowest qualifying position in the last five races - get him down. “Well, the qualifying deal isn't how our race is going to play out," he stressed. "This is one lap of how many hundred miles we've got to go. I don't know where we're going to end up here, but it looks like we're going to be solid. That's the main thing.
"We didn't have a pole-winning car today," he admitted, but he was confident that his #14 Office Depot Chevrolet car "is pretty good in race trim. I'm glad we spent more time working on race trim than qualifying trim. So, we'll see how it plays out ... We'll know in 399 miles. I'll let you know after that.”
Pointing out that poles do not correlate with wins - "I've won 13 poles in 13 years, and I've won  races now, proving that you don't have to do it from the pole" - Stewart added "don't start etching his name on the trophy yet."
Edwards' pole time of 30.775s (175.467mph) compared to Stewart's 31.154s. It means that Edwards claimed his third pole of the year (his tenth in Cup competition in 265 races) and his second at Homestead. Edwards also performed strongly in the practice sessions held earlier on Saturday, after Cup activity was washed out on Friday by showers: he topped the second practice outright despite running just three timed laps.
"We actually had a cut in the right rear tyre after the first run in the second practice," said Edwards. "In a way, it probably helped us from tuning the [#99] out of contention."
Behind Edwards and Truex on the front row will be Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, with Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth on row three ahead of Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle. Outgoing Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will start from ninth place, alongside Denny Hamlin on the grid.
Kyle Busch will line up alongside Trevor Bayne on the tenth row of the grid, with Kevin Harvick just behind them in 21st position alongside Landon Cassill. Juan Montoya lines up in 27th for the final season of the race, alongside David Reutimann who makes his final outing with Michael Waltrip Racing on Sunday after having been dropped by the team in favour of Mark Marin in 2012.
Scott Speed, Reed Sorenson, Mike Skinner, Scott Riggs and Grant Enfinger failed to make the 43-car field for the final race of 2011.
Full qualifying and practice times