Homestead, Fla. Jamie McMurray won a historic pole Friday -- the first on the reconfigured Homestead-Miami Speedway and the last in NASCAR's Winston Cup era.
McMurray, leading Greg Biffle in the battle for rookie of the year, led the way in qualifying for Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 with a lap of 181.111 mph on the 11/2-mile oval, drastically changed since last year from just 6 degrees of banking to 20-degrees all around.
Each of the 48 drivers who made a qualifying attempt Friday easily surpassed the record of 159.964, set in 1999 by Rusty Wallace on the first of two previous track configurations.
"It's exciting to come to a brand-new racetrack and run that well," McMurray said. "This place has so much grip that we didn't have to do a lot for qualifying."
Donnie Wingo, the crew chief on McMurray's Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge, told the driver his first lap was a fast one and asked if he wanted to abort the second qualifying lap.
"I thought the second lap was going to be better," said McMurray, who kept his foot on the gas. "Then I started thinking about what Donnie said and I got so excited I messed up (turns) three and four."
The first lap was still good enough to give McMurray his first Cup pole in 41 tries.
"I'm really excited because I've qualified so bad this year," he said. "If you look at it, I think I'm about an 18th-place qualifier on average."
The best previous start for McMurray, who ran six Cup races in 2002, was second at Rockingham last November. The pole is his 12th top-10 start in 36 races this season.
Sunday will mark the end of a 33-year association between NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Winston brand and, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, the series will be known as the Nextel Cup.
"My dad is big into stuff like that," McMurray said. "He said, 'Man, you're going to be the last guy to win a Winston Cup pole.' I think that's neat, but I didn't care if it came in the first race or the last one.
"I'm just happy to have one -- just because it's a pole. But it does put you in another race at Daytona and I feel I need some more time at superspeedways."
Pole winners automatically earn a starting spot in the following year's Bud Shootout, a made-for-TV race during Daytona's Speed Weeks in February. McMurray is the 14th different pole winner of 2003.
Bobby Labonte and 20-year-old phenom Brian Vickers followed McMurray with laps of 180.729. Labonte, a former series champion, got the second spot on the 43-car grid based on being higher in the season points.
Vickers, who will start only his fifth Cup race Sunday, has qualified no worse than fourth in his last four tries. One thing Vickers did accomplish this time was beating Ryan Newman, who had twice kept Vickers from winning a pole by thousandths of a second.
Newman, who leads the series with 11 poles this season, had his string of three straight broken, qualifying fourth at 180.717.
"We were just excited about finally beating Newman," Vickers said. "I must not have paid my dues enough."
Newman, who also is tops this season with eight wins, said, "The balance was just a little off. We'll just keep our chin up and get her in race trim and see how things go."
Jeff Gordon was next at 180.210, followed by Kevin Harvick at 180.126 and defending race winner Kurt Busch at 179.641. Jimmie Johnson, trying to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman and Gordon for second place in the season points, was 10th at 179.158, while Earnhardt will start 38th after qualifying at a disappointing 175.947.