"I've got to pinch myself right now," beamed Greg Biffle after claiming pole position at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time in his Sprint Cup career, and his 10th career pole in the series. "I think I'm dreaming! Everything's going right, right now."
It's not just claiming pole with a lap of 15.324s (125.215 mph) on the half mile oval that's delighted Biffle - it's also the fact that he's sitting on top of the Cup championship points standings three races into the 2012 season.
"The team is really excited about how the season started out," he enthused. "We have gone from a superspeedway to a one mile track to a mile-and-a-half which is a Roush Fenway flagship kind of race track. We have run very respectable at all those places and last week [at Las Vegas] I would have thought that third is nothing to shake a stick at."
As for his pole position lap at Bristol on Friday afternoon, Biffle credited a lucky break with the weather and the cloud cover coming at a critical moment.
"The sun just went behind the clouds," he said of his qualifying lap. "It was cooler earlier when some of those guys went and then the sun came out and it looked like the track lost a tenth ... Now the sun is behind the clouds and it is cooling down a bunch right now.
"The car was really good," he added. "The guys did a great adjustment late ... We were switching a few things back and forth for a little more turn versus a little less turn."
Biffle said that he probably couldn't have recreated his lap a second time if he'd tried. "I got in the gas fairly early and was a little worried about making the rest of the corner," he said. "It got loose up off of both ends because I went in the gas so early in the middle of the corner, just pushing the envelope as much as I could."
AJ Allmendinger put his Penske Racing #22 alongside Biffle on the front row, missing out on the top seat by just 0.001s. But he will trade that for reassurance that the team have overcome the electronic fuel injection pick-up issue that spoiled his race at Las Vegas last weekend.
"They figured out the problem," insisted Allmendinger. "As soon as we got back on Monday morning, they were working hard on it ... I guess we'll find out after Sunday if it's completely solved, but I have confidence that it is."
Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon will from the second row of the grid, with Newman confident that there was good race performance waiting to be tapped in the #39.
"We were close, I think within a hundredth there or so," he said. "It's just a good run for us; a good starting spot. We'll have a good pit selection. It's all the things that you could ask for. We'll just flip her over into race trim tomorrow and see how good we can make it on the long runs."
"Obviously you've got to pick up a little bit to be in the top five or six," said Gordon, a five-time winner at Bristol. "I think we can be in that top five. I hope so. I think it was a good lap. Just a few little tweaks here and there to be a little bit better, but all in all, it was a great effort all day."
Allmendinger's team mate Brad Keselowski - the most recent Cup race winner at Bristol - will set off from fifth place. Kyle Busch, who has won four of the past six races at Bristol, qualified in 13th position. Jimmie Johnson will start from 22nd position, just ahead of reigning champion Tony Stewart in 23rd.
Allmendinger had earlier finished second in the timesheets in the only Friday practice session, which was topped by Carl Edwards with a lap of 15.484s (123.922 mph). Edwards ended up qualifying in eighth place despite improving his time in the later session.
David Stremme, Dave Blaney, Josh Wise, Reed Sorenson, Michael McDowell, JJ Yeley, Joe Nemechek and Scott Riggs all qualified on speed. Robbie Gordon withdrew with EFI issues, leaving rookie Timmy Hill as the only driver not to make the 43-car field for Sunday afternoon's race.
In the Nationwide Series, current champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted a lap time of 15.756s (121.782 mph) in the second of the two Friday practice sessions to edge out Kevin Harvick by 0.019s.
Full qualifying times and positions
Full Nationwide Friday practice times