Although sitting on the pole is not unique to Sterling Marlin, a four-year drought made it seem like a new experience.
"Well, it's a new car," Marlin said today after breaking the track qualifying record at Pocono International Raceway. "It's a good race car. Now I hope I don't mess it up."
He certainly didn't make a mistake during his time test for the Pocono 500, getting his first pole since July 1995 by taking his Chevrolet around the 2 1/2-mile triangular oval at 170.506 mph.
"That was a perfect lap," said Marlin, who needed it to edge Dale Jarrett, the Winston Cup points leader.
Jarrett got his Ford up to 169.952, and will start Sunday on the outside of the front row.
"I wouldn't say it was comfortable, but it was fast," Jarrett said, giving most of the credit to crew chief Todd Parrott. "We weren't that happy about what we had when we unloaded, but Todd and the guys gave me something I could really be aggressive with."
Marlin felt the same way, although he knew how good the car was from the moment practice began.
"It came off the truck fast," said Marlin, who claimed the 10th pole of his career, but first in 123 races overall and in 28 tries at Pocono.
Jarrett, who leads Jeff Burton by 66 points, is coming off a rout of the field last week in Brooklyn, Mich. He is using the same car.
"The guys just cleaned it up and got it ready to go again," he said. "When you get a good car, you want to race it as much as possible."
Only Jarrett and Bobby Labonte, who is third in the driver standings, managed serious runs at Marlin.
"I tried to take it a little too easy through Turn 3," Labonte said after a lap of 169.821 mph in a Pontiac. "I don't think I carried enough steam through there, but we're awfully happy with what we did today."
Several others weren't, notably Jeff Gordon, a disappointing 17th with a run of 168.757 mph.
Trailing Jarrett by 349 points as he tries for a record-tying third straight series title, Gordon was hoping for better. But he was no threat to his 1996 track qualifying mark of 169.725 mph.
"I got real, real loose out there," Gordon said after his worst qualifying effort this year. "That was the slowest we've been all day."
Not so for Marlin, who practiced fast and just kept building on that as the day progressed. He said his day wasn't without incident.
He said he nearly spun the car in practice, and realized that instability in the tight turns could be his undoing. So adjustments were made, and Marlin said team manager Tony Glover and the crew made the right call on the setup.
But it was his call on the radio to Marlin that made the driver's day.
"Coming off Turn 3 he said, `You've got the pole by a long shot,' " Marlin said. "It felt good. We used up all the race track in that lap."
After Labonte came the Ford of Bill Elliott, a four-time Pocono pole sitter, at 169.757 mph. Rick Mast was next in a Ford at 169.747 mph.
Ken Schrader, whose five poles are a Pocono record, qualified sixth. He was followed by brothers Ward and Jeff Burton, Wally Dallenbach and Mark Martin.