Tony Stewart was the fastest among 11 drivers who broke the track qualifying record for Martinsville Speedway, turning a lap at 98.083 mph under an overcast sky Friday to win the pole position for Sunday's Subway 500.
Stewart's lap easily eclipsed the mark of 97.043 mph set by Ryan Newman in this race a year ago, and eased Virginia native Ricky Rudd to the outside of the first row.
Stewart took a cue from Rudd when he qualified faster than he practiced.
"We almost picked up the same amount of time that he did," he said.
Stewart also gained what he hopes will be an advantage by spending the first hour of practice working on his race setup. He said the decision was prompted by questions about the weather on Saturday, when the Nextel Cup drivers have two practice sessions.
Rudd, making what could be his final start at Martinsville, circled the .526-mile track at 97.992 mph.
"It's almost been sort of an uneventful day," Rudd said. "We didn't have to change a whole lot of stuff. The car was ready off the truck."
However Rudd, in his third season driving for Wood Brothers Racing and in his 31st season in Nextel Cup racing, was not ready to talk about his future.
"Let's talk about Martinsville. I know what's happening at Martinsville," Rudd said. "No disrespect to everybody. It's just not time to announce anything yet."
The pole is the 10th of Stewart's career and third this season. He'll start the race in a tie with Jimmie Johnson atop the standings in the Chase for the Nextel Cup with five races remaining. Johnson will start sixth after a lap at 97.548 mph.
Rusty Wallace, seventh in the points standings, will start third in search of his eighth career victory here. He leads active drivers at Martinsville.
"I think a lot of people look at me as the favorite here," Wallace said. "I kinda feel that when I come into this track. I've got a little extra step in my stride when I come into this track because I've been so successful here in the past."
After Stewart's Chevrolet and Rudd's Ford, the Dodges of Wallace and Ryan Newman are on the second row, followed by the Chevrolets of Denny Hamlin and Johnson.
The rest of the top 10 includes Jeremy Mayfield, Joe Nemechek, Elliott Sadler and Bobby Labonte. Jeff Gordon, who won here in the spring, qualified 15th.