Thanks to Brian Vickers' fast lap in qualifying Friday, a Toyota will be in pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

Although the Michigan track is located less than 100 from Detroit, essentially putting it in the backyard of the U.S. auto industry, Vickers didn't seem to think that made it a particularly significant achievement for a Japanese team.

But in downplaying the significance of outqualifying domestic automakers' teams in their home state, Vickers might have delivered an inadvertent dig.

"I don't know if this is the Big Three's home or not," Vickers said. "I guess a couple of them are based out of Washington, D.C., now. And I don't know where the rest are based. So I never really thought about it that way."

Vickers clearly was referring to the U.S. government's financial assistance to troubled domestic automakers, but insisted he wasn't trying to be flippant.

"I'm not trying to be funny," Vickers said. "I don't know where they're headquartered. The government owns them, so I don't know what they'd call their headquarters. Except for Ford. I don't want to make a false statement."

The government owns 60 percent of General Motors, whose Chevrolet divison supplies engines to NASCAR teams. GM recently emerged from bankruptcy and has received government loans. The Canadian government also received a stake in GM, whose headquarters remain in downtown Detroit.

The United States also has an 8 percent interest in Auburn Hills-based Chrysler, maker of Dodge.


MARTIN'S COMEBACK: Winning the June NASCAR race at Michigan was not a rare feat for Mark Martin. How he did it was.

Martin climbed from the 32nd position to set a track record for the greatest improvement from a starting position for a race winner. In 80 NASCAR races at MIS, only 10 winners have come from drivers starting outside the top 15.

Martin, who has five career victories at Michigan, downplayed the significance of the feat.

"It's nice to start in the front," Martin said. "But you don't have to. You just do the best you can with what you have to work with. Last time here we qualified 32nd. We didn't want to, but we did. It was what we had to work with.

"I don't like to lose qualifying. I felt like I lost. Being 32nd with a car capable of doing what our car is capable of doing, I was embarrassed."

The 50-year-old Martin said not worrying about his starting position at the time made a difference. Now he is trying to not think too much about his fight to be in the top 12 for NASCAR's championship chase.

"I'm just not getting caught up into it," said Martin who is 11th in the points standings. "It would be nice to be locked in, but it's also nice to be contending to get in.

"It would be a lot worse if you were in the back and didn't have a shot at it. With our race team and the performance we've had on the race track, all we've got to do is go out and race. If things go against us, we can't help that. The performance of the race team certainly makes me comfortable."


THE (OTHER) KING: Richard Petty is known as "The King" in racing circles, but Juan Pablo Montoya spent part of his week learning about another American icon by the same nickname.

After making an appearance at Target House, a residence for families and patients receiving treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Montoya took his family on a side trip to Graceland.

The verdict?

"It was pretty cool. It is a really, really tacky house but it was cool," pausing as a crowd of reporters laughed. "It was! I know for the time, where he was and everything, that was cool but ... like the yellow room and this and that, it was different."

So, is Montoya an Elvis fan?

"I don't mind his music," Montoya said. "Do I turn the radio to listen to Elvis? No. But if a song comes on, I think it is pretty cool."


SPARK PLUGS: Vickers said he had nothing new to report on his ongoing contract situation. "It's the same old situation," Vickers said. "It's been going on since October, and I'm just about burned out about it. We agreed on everything, and then it just kept changing." ... Nationwide series driver Brad Keselowski also had no update on his plans for next season. "It's coming, so we'll see," he said. "When I make a move it's just going to happen all at once." ... In a post-qualifying news conference, Montoya delivered remarks in Spanish _ clearly impressing Martin. "That is really cool," Martin said. ... NASCAR officials said Kasey Kahne, Dave Blaney and Mike Skinner will have to start Sunday's race at the back of the pack after engine changes.