Indianapolis Jimmy Spencer beat the heat for his second career pole and first in seven years, taking the top spot for today's Brickyard 400.
With temperatures climbing through the 80s and a hot sun glaring down on the 21*2-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on Saturday, Spencer was the sixth of 54 drivers in the qualifying line.
The session began at 10:15 a.m. with everyone aware the asphalt track was only going to get more slick and treacherous as the heat index rose.
"I'm not going to deny I was hoping for the sun after I ran," said Spencer, grinning after his lap of 179.666 mph earned his first pole since 1994.
Bill Elliott and Evernham Motorsports teammate Casey Atwood, a Winston Cup rookie, were close behind Spencer's Carter-Haas Motorsports Ford with a pair of Dodges.
Elliott, who gained his best starting spot since winning the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, had a lap of 179.565, while Atwood ran 179.361.
With the combination of a harder tire and the superheated track, the pole-winning speed was considerably slower than the 181.068 run here last August by Ricky Rudd.
That didn't make it any less of a celebration for the emotional Spencer, whose only two Winston Cup wins also came in 1994.
"At North Wilkesboro, we were having a tough time with the people I was working with believing in me," said Spencer, who earned the nickname Mr. Excitement while racing on the short tracks of the Northeast.
"It's a lot different for me now ... because of the dedication I've got among my guys," added Spencer, who now drives for Travis Carter and Carl Haas. "I can't say enough for my guys and for Carl and Travis for believing in me."
After coming into the season without ever winning a pole, the Carter-Haas team now has three in the last four races, with Todd Bodine taking the other two.
"That's what a professional team should be like," said Carter, a longtime crew chief before starting his own team. "Our people have worked better and communicated a lot better this year, and that's been paramount and a key to the ongoing improvement."
Next step: winning.
"I say if you run well enough long enough you'll win," Carter added.
Dodge, which returned to NASCAR's top series in 2001 after a 16-year absence, is still looking for its first victory heading into the 21st race of a 36-event schedule.
Nobody would be surprised if that happened today. This is the first race in which the Intrepids will have the benefit of a new rule allowing the cars an extra 2 inches for their front air dams. The rule change came after weeks of complaints by the Dodge teams that they were shy of downforce, particularly on flat tracks like Indy.