Elliott Sadler hasn't forgotten the sinking feeling that overcame him last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he watched Jeff Gordon celebrate his fourth Brickyard victory.
"I almost wanted to cry," said Sadler, who led twice for 32 laps that day but finished third. "So we decided to come back and do it two positions better."
And that just might happen if Saturday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard qualifying is any indication. Sadler grabbed his second pole of the season, racing around the 2.5-mile oval at 184.116 mph -- more than a full mph faster than second-place qualifier Jeremy Mayfield (183.053). Sadler's speed, however, was 2 mph slower than Casey Mears's pole speed of 186.293 last year.
"The guys have definitely brought a great racecar," said Sadler, who drives the No. 38 Ford. "We were just very fast right off the hauler. We definitely have the car to beat tomorrow. We should be in great shape.
"Being on the pole at the Brickyard is one step closer to a dream," Sadler added. "We really want to kiss those bricks. And we are going to do what it takes to do that."
Sadler is ninth in the Nextel Cup points standing, clinging to a berth in the "Chase for the Championship," NASCAR's two-year-old playoff system that determines its champion. Only the top 10 drivers (or those within 400 points of the series leader) qualify for the chase, which begins six races from now.
Michael Waltrip (182.975) will start alongside Kasey Kahne (182.837) on Row 2.
Mears, the fastest car in Saturday morning's practice, smacked the outside wall during his qualifying run and will start 40th. Rusty Wallace, racing at the Brickyard for the final time before retiring, also crashed and will start 41st.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 42nd after his car failed inspection twice because of a chain dangling from the rear end and failing to have the problem fixed in the five-minute time limit.
Favorites Are Behind
Fan favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon must turn in solid performances Sunday in order to qualify for the "Chase." They are ranked 14th and 15th, respectively.
"It doesn't matter what the statistics show, it's what we do from this weekend on," said Gordon. "We recognize that. We've run out of time. The pressure is on and we've got to step up to the plate. Can't think of a better place to get that going than right here."
Some racing officials worry privately that a chase without Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon could cause casual fans to lose interest in the final 10 races of the series. Earnhardt Jr. qualified 27th for Sunday's race; Gordon will start seventh.
There's been some talk, particularly in the media, about whether NASCAR ought to amend the rules to ensure the sport's top stars aren't shut out. But NASCAR boss Brian France said on Saturday that it won't happen.
"We have zero interest in that," France said. "I don't know that we want to adjust that. You have to earn your way in. Fan votes and limping in or some obscure thing race officials would do, I don't think our drivers want that."
Truex Wins Kroger 200
Faster in the pits, faster on the track, Martin Truex Jr. held off Clint Bowyer on a final two-lap shootout to win the Kroger 200 in Clermont, Ind., his sixth NASCAR Busch Series victory of the season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.