It was the kind of moment you can't script.
Jamie McMurray, after winning the pole for today's Pennsylvania 500 with a lap of 168.761 mph at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., took his seat in the media center just as Mark Martin, who had qualified third fastest, was wrapping up his interview.
"Mark," one reporter asked, "will this be your final Nextel Cup start at Pocono?"
Martin smiled wryly.
"I wish I knew," he said.
McMurray, turning away from the microphone, fought back his own grin.
"I wish I knew, too," he muttered.
The two drivers with intertwined futures in NASCAR's top series were among the three fastest in yesterday's qualifying, with Kurt Busch -- Martin's current teammate and McMurray's future one -- winding up between them at the front of today's starting field.
McMurray won just his second career pole, his first since the final race of the 2003 season, amid a swirl of controversy and debate about when, but not where, he'll take the next step in his driving career.
McMurray has signed to drive the No. 6 Fords that Martin had planned to leave following this season as he stepped away from full-time Cup competition.
But Chip Ganassi Racing this week officially exercised its option on McMurray's contract for 2006.
"We have every intention of putting him in [the No. 42 car] in 2006," said Tyler Epp, the team's general manager. "When we did the contract [Jamie] committed a number of years to us and us to him. It's the right thing to do."
If McMurray is in the No. 42 car next year, as it appears likely he will be, that apparently will mean Martin will return to the No. 6.
"I committed to do it," Martin said, indicating his willingness to acquiesce to team owner Jack Roush's request to stay until McMurray arrives, which might not happen now until the start of the 2007 season.
So as long as McMurray is going to be driving the No. 42 for a while, he figures the best thing he can do is drive it as fast as he can.
Ryan Newman ran 168.249 mph, good for fourth. Ricky Rudd was fifth with Tony Stewart, who has won three of the past four Cup races, sixth. Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 10.
Jeff Gordon, fighting to reverse his recent slide that has him in danger of missing the Chase for the Nextel Cup, will start 21st. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has made up major ground over the past three races in his bid to make the Chase, struggled and will start 40th.
* IRL: Heading into today's A.J. Foyt 225 at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisc., Penske drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves qualified 1-2 with Hornish winning his third pole of the season and Castroneves just behind.
Dan Wheldon will start fourth with Dario Franchitti, the defending race winner, eighth.
Danica Patrick, the 23-year-old rookie who has caused so much excitement this season and is 11th in the season points, qualified sixth and kept alive hopes for her first IRL victory.
* FORMULA ONE: Kimi Raikkonen set the pace in qualifying for the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, Germany, to gain his fourth pole position of the season.
Raikkonen has been plagued by engine trouble in recent races, but he dominated the practice sessions and confirmed his status as favorite by leaving the field far behind in qualifying.
He clocked the fastest lap time of 1 minute 14.320 seconds on the 2.842-mile Hockenheim circuit, giving him his seventh career pole.
Jenson Button will also start from the front of the grid by finishing second in a BAR-Honda in 1:14.759.
Fernando Alonso, the Formula One series leader after 11 of 19 races, was third in his Renault in 1:14.904. Teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was fourth in 1:14.927.