Juan Montoya's pole position last week at Pocono had shocked even the 36-year-old Colombian driver, but there was perhaps less surprise when he made it a double cause for celebration with pole this time around at Watkins Glen.
"This week we've genuinely been good all weekend," said Montoya, admitting the last week's pole had been a real out-of-the-blue 'how did that happen?' moment for the whole Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team, while lamenting that they had then missed the race set-up entirely for the Sunday. "I think this week we can contend," he continued, adding: "Having track position is a good thing because you can do it smart and see what it brings us."
After all, this is where the former F1 driver claimed his most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup series, win two years ago. But despite his pedigree, it is actually Montoya's first pole position at a road course race in a stock car.
"I think the lap was a really good lap," he said. "You always make mistakes here and there. It's never perfect. You always think I went too far here, I went too little there, I lost it there, but I think everybody does. It's about how well you can put it all together. I thought we did a pretty good job of that
"We ran a little slower than practice, but with the sun out, it's like 20 degrees hotter," Montoya admitted. "You can always say I could have got a little more, but sometimes when you want a little more you actually lose."
Even so, Montoya's time of 69.438s (127.020mph) was a new track qualifying record, and left him 0.05s clear of Kyle Busch, last year's pole position winner. Busch had topped the Saturday morning practice session with a time of 69.199s, in a late addition to the weekend schedule after rain wreaked havoc on Friday and thwarted most of the track time, as Sprint Cup cars don't have rain tyres for wet weather running even at road courses.
"The #18 was really good during qualifying," said Busch. "It was really fast. I thought it was good and I thought it would be close to the pole. It was close, but it wasn't first."
Busch badly needs an outright win this weekend to put him back in with a chance of making the post-season Chase shoot-out via one of the "most wins" wildcards.
“For the next five or whatever it is, it's 'win or bust', basically," he admitted. "Finishing second or third or fourth isn't going to get us anywhere."
Currently he has one win in 2012, but Jeff Gordon's win last week at Pocono bumped Busch out of a wild card position. "Us having one win, Jeff Gordon having one win — that's who I feel like we're really racing, is the #24 car. If we pass him back in points, obviously that will get us back in the Chase," confirmed Busch. "To lock, three is a lock, but you can have two and just try to keep yourselves in front of the guys that do have one win in case they do get a win."
Jimmie Johnson - still smarting from the late-race accident last week at Pocono that cost him a seemingly certain victory - will line up on the second row of the grid alongside Brad Keselowski.
“It was a good lap," said Johnson. "In turn 6 through the Carousel I had a moment and a slide that I think I lost a fair chunk of time on. It's tough to get a perfect lap around any road course. I wish that I didn't slide that much because I feel like I could have been on the pole. But it was a great effort and I feel really solid about our car come race time."
"We haven't qualified well this year but today was a great effort," said Keselowski of his own qualifying run. "Track position is key on road courses especially at a fast place like The Glen. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get the pole. I'm positive I could have squeezed another tenth out of it for sure. We'll take it. We can see the front and will have a good pit selection. Our car is fast."
On the third row of the grid, Marcos Ambrose - like Montoya, another road course specialist by virtue of his Australian V8 sportscar experience - will line up alongside Ryan Newman, whose boss Tony Stewart will start immediately behind them in seventh place alongside Clint Bowyer.
"I made a mistake in turn six and just didn't quite have enough rear grip there," said Ambrose about his run. That's okay. We've got a great race car and we'll just play the strategy game and see what comes out of it. I feel great about tomorrow, I feel really good about it."
Ambrose won at Watkins Glen in 2011 and is hoping for some momentum from that experience to help take him to the front again this weekend.
"We're not too far from where we were last year," he said. "Obviously, they've changed the rules some on the rear roll bar and side skirts, so we've made some adjustments to it, but we were still too free there for that hot track."
With 43 cars entered for this weekend's race, all drivers made the field for the start of the race - even Travis Kvapil, who crashed in turn 7 on his qualifying run and didn't set a time.
Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton were sent to their backup cars on Friday after a practice accident left their primary cars with heavy damage. Both drivers spun off on oil laid down by Patrick Long's engine blow-up.
"It's one of our older chassis we developed last year sometime, so obviously that hurts us a little bit," said Hamlin after qualifying in 23rd place. "Really, kind of disappointed in that qualifying effort. We've ran almost that fast in race trim this morning. Definitely not happy with that, but we'll try to make something of our day."
Full qualifying and practice times