Mark Martin picked Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the spot he plans to end his 97-race winless streak.
Then he announced it to all of NASCAR, an uncharacteristic burst of boldness that literally raised eyebrows.
"When Mark said that, I looked at him ... because Mark never is optimistic about things," said two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. "The fact that he was so confident about it, I couldn't believe it was Mark Martin.
"I think that's a huge statement."
Was it ever.
Martin turned a lap Saturday at 181.393 mph in his Chevrolet to beat everyone in qualifying except Johnson. His lap of 181.763 gave him his first pole at the Brickyard, and an up-close look at what Martin has in store for the field in Sunday's race.
"He's a much better racer than he is at qualifying, so I would assume he's going to be one of the guys to beat," said Johnson, winner of the 2006 race here. "Of course, I'm very optimistic about our car and what we're doing. But for Mark to go out and say that type of comment, he's got something in store for us."
Martin, as is his manner, downplayed his alleged guarantee after qualifying. Made in June at Pocono Raceway, the veteran said he didn't mean to sound so certain victory was his to take.
"I didn't feel like when I made the statement, like (it was) Babe Ruth pointing. Maybe it was, but I didn't mean it that way," Martin said. "But I did mean that we were going to come here and be strong and I feel like no matter what happens tomorrow I can halfway save face on that because Top 10 in both practices and we've qualified second, so I feel that prediction is coming true."
Ryan Newman qualified third in a Dodge and was followed by Kasey Kahne and four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon. He was followed by Elliott Sadler and Kurt Busch, then the Roush Fenway Racing Fords of Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Defending race winner Tony Stewart had the highest-qualifying Toyota at 14th and teammate Kyle Busch, the series points leader, was 19th.
Failing to qualify were Bill Elliott, the 2002 Brickyard winner who had appeared in all 14 previous races here, Johnny Sauter, Stanton Barrett and Tony Raines.
Although Martin likes his chances, he'll most certainly have his hands full with Johnson, Gordon and the Hendrick Motorsports fleet. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 11th, and the three Chevrolets have been the best in nearly every practice session.
Johnson and Gordon went 1-2 in Happy Hour, and Gordon paced Saturday's first session.
For Johnson, it was the pickup he needed after losing to Kyle Busch two weeks ago in Chicago. Johnson erred on the final restart, giving Busch the opening he needed to grab the lead away en route to his series-best seventh victory.
For most of the past three years, it's been Johnson who did that to opponents. So messing up in Chicago was particularly hard on the champion.
"I was really mad at myself. There was no one to blame but myself for losing that race," he said. "For days after that I kicked myself. Then as I knew I was coming to Indy and getting my mind ready to come race here, I started kicking myself again.
"So that was my fault. I apologized to my team over and over. They're tired of hearing it, but we should have had that trophy. That was our race."
Strong practice sessions and the pole have helped Johnson move past the blunder and gain some of the swagger back that's seemingly been missing this season. A routine visitor to Victory Lane, Johnson has just one win this season and is fifth in the points standings.
"Every time you're on track, it kind of erases what went on before," Johnson said. "But, God, I hope roles are reversed at the end of this thing. I want to get back the same way, and that is out of respect for him. He got me."
But the Brickyard has never been particularly kind to Johnson, who ended a stretch of horrible runs here when he won in 2006. His reward? A fiery wreck last season that resulted in a 36th-place finish _ the third time in seven races he's finished 36th or worse.
The great equalizer could be a tire problem that popped up during Saturday's practice sessions.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said the unique surface at Indianapolis has historically been troublesome for tiremaker Goodyear, and teams grew concerned when cars could only manage a handful of laps on a fresh set of tires because the rubber wasn't sticking to the track.
"It hasn't gotten better as quick as they had hoped, it's a little bit slow to get the rubber down for whatever reason," Pemberton said. "It's the same or very similar to what we had last year."
Pemberton said NASCAR is considering increasing the tire allotment for the 400-mile race, though he added that things should get better when the full field is on the track because drivers will run on multiple grooves and even out the surface.
Goodyear director of race tire sales Greg Stucker recommended NASCAR call a competition caution early in the race so teams can check the tires, and NASCAR officials said they likely would.