Joey Logano will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday's Pocono 400 Cup race, after setting a new qualifying lap record time of 50.112s (179.598mph) in qualifying on Saturday.
"It's cool to get a pole here, get a new track record here too," said Logano. "That's really neat. Hopefully, it holds up for a while."
In fact, fully 36 drivers in the field beat the previous record lap speed of 172.533mph set by Kasey Kahne in 2004, as drivers found the smoother surface of the newly resurfaced track much more conducive to going flat out that the old bumpy asphalt that had been in place since 1995.
But the 2.5-mile triangular track still threw up some surprises for the drivers, despite their having spent several days mid-week testing on the new surface prior to the start of official practice for this weekend's race.
One was the amount of dirt laid down by Friday afternoon's ARCA practice in turn 1: Logano said that he felt he had lost about a tenth of a second or more through that corner as a result - "Man, I felt like I left a little bit out there ... but I felt like I nailed 2 and 3 pretty well," he added.
Logano was a relatively early runner in qualifying, and with successive runs cleaning up the track and laying down more grip as the session went on, logic dictated that speeds would climb still further. The really big surprise of the day, therefore, was that they didn't.
"I think it's really hard to determine what makes this track faster right now," said Carl Edwards, who set the second fastest time of the day and will start the Pocono 400 alongside Logano. "I don't know if being a little warmer makes it faster. I thought, as we went on and that speedy-dry and the groove got cleaned off, that people would go a lot faster, so it's a surprise to me."
There was no mystery about why Denny Hamlin failed to claim pole position away from his JGR team mate Logano when he had looked well on course to set the fastest time of the afternoon: a fuel line broke on his car and he did well to not spin on his own oil as a result.
That left Denny Hamlin starting on the third row of the grid in fifth place alongside veteran racer Mark Martin, who had topped the first practice session on Friday. Between them and the front row are Paul Menard in third place and Kyle Busch in fourth.
"I felt like 1 and 2 went as good as I could have hoped and just got a little bit loose down in turn 3 and lost some time," said Menard. "Still probably could not have gotten Joey," he admitted.
"I'm really glad we are starting on the inside," he added. "If we couldn't be third I would have liked to have been fifth just to be on the inside. The track is widening out in turns one and turn three are getting kind of a half outside groove. It's just going to continue to get better throughout the race."
For his part, Kyle Busch admitted that he'd "Missed just a little bit" on his run.
"You're kind of tentative going out there knowing everybody has been a little bit slick, but a couple of guys started to back up their times from practice," he said. " We backed up our time from practice too. But just a little bit off in qualifying trim for some reason, just not being to get all the speed we need out of it. Solid lap."
The former Pocono lap record holder, Kasey Kahne, will start from tenth place on Sunday, while Cup championship leader Greg Biffle settled for 13th place on the grid. Current Cup champion Tony Stewart once again had a disappointing qualifying and will start from 22nd, two places ahead of last week's race winner Jimmie Johnson in 24th who also struggled to set a strong time on Saturday.
David Stremme was the sole driver not to qualify for the 43-car grid, after he brushed the wall in turn 1 on his qualifying lap and failed to make it into the race on speed. Scott Riggs got to repeat his qualifying effort as his initial run revealed that the track needed additional clean-up, leading to a delay of around an hour to the start of qualifying.
Full qualifying and practice times