He claimed he didn't need a cloud, as the other drivers pinned hopes of fast laps on a 40-second weather window, as so it proved to be as Mark Martin's Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet cast a shadow in the Virginian afternoon on his way to a potentially decisive pole position.

“It's awesome,” said a surprised Martin, who expected a fifth place start at best before speaking highly of his team for giving him a “stellar car.”

Martin, the 19th driver who posted a time, bettered the lap of Martin Truex Jr, who will join him on the front row, in a repeat of the seasoning opening Daytona 500 (albeit the other way around). Behind them will be two of the four drivers' already cemented in the chase, with local favourite Denny Hamlin ahead of defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Hamlin who led 381 of 400 laps in 2008's Richmond spring race and 148 earlier this year is still to record his first Cup Series victory at the track says this weekend would be perfect time to start. “it would definitely be big,” he said adding that a crucial win before The Chase “would have us puffing our chest out pretty big”.

Competition between the 'go or go home' drivers having to qualify on speed was thin with only nine drivers fighting over the eight available spots. And the unlucky man was veteran Tony Raines, who's fastest lap fell over a tenth short of next slowest man Max Papis' effort.

Martin's pole, his sixth of the season, is a big step towards a place in the season ending chase. To guarantee himself a chance at the title Martin needs to finish 12th or higher in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400. However top starting spot moves him a step closer to an all important five bonus points, and only having to finish 14th.

Looking the other way in The Chase must be Roush-Fenway Racing. While Carl Edwards, still driving with a broken foot qualified 10th fastest, drivers Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, both less secure in the top 12, will start 24th and 28th respectively.

Meanwhile, the only two drivers with a realistic chance of making The Chase from outside it fared far better, with Brian Vickers due to line up sixth ahead of Kyle Busch in eighth – places that would put him in the Chase at the Roush duo's expense if they repeated themselves after 400 laps on Saturday. Both Toyota drivers are, of course, hopeful of that happening with Vickers pinning his hopes on a good long run package, saying “we'll find out soon enough”.

Find out as the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 gets underway, with the green flag shortly after 7:30pm (local time) Saturday.

Pos  Driver              Make        Speed     Time
 1.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet   126.808   21.292
 2.  Martin Truex Jr     Chevrolet   126.731   21.305 + 0.013
 3.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota      126.630   21.322 + 0.030
 4.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   126.541   21.337 + 0.045
 5.  Kasey Kahne         Dodge       126.452   21.352 + 0.060
 6.  Brian Vickers       Toyota      126.251   21.386 + 0.094
 7.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   125.992   21.430 + 0.138
 8.  Kyle Busch          Toyota      125.962   21.435 + 0.143
 9.  Brad Keselowski     Chevrolet   125.921   21.442 + 0.150
10.  Carl Edwards        Ford        125.786   21.465 + 0.173
11.  Reed Sorenson       Dodge       125.769   21.468 + 0.176
12.  David Stremme       Dodge       125.763   21.469 + 0.177
13.  Kurt Busch          Dodge       125.581   21.500 + 0.208
14.  Juan Montoya        Chevrolet   125.570   21.502 + 0.210
15.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet   125.564   21.503 + 0.211
16.  Marcos Ambrose      Toyota      125.552   21.505 + 0.213
17.  AJ Allmendinger     Dodge       125.506   21.513 + 0.221
18.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   125.482   21.517 + 0.225
19.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   125.476   21.518 + 0.226
20.  Scott Speed         Toyota      125.418   21.528 + 0.236
21.  Ryan Newman         Chevrolet   125.331   21.543 + 0.251
22.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   125.290   21.550 + 0.258
23.  David Reutimann     Toyota      125.174   21.570 + 0.278
24.  Greg Biffle         Ford        125.156   21.573 + 0.281
25.  Jamie McMurray      Ford        125.139   21.576 + 0.284
26.  David Ragan         Ford        124.954   21.608 + 0.316
27.  Joey Logano         Toyota      124.781   21.638 + 0.346
28.  Matt Kenseth        Ford        124.694   21.653 + 0.361
29.  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet   124.625   21.665 + 0.373
30.  David Gilliland     Toyota      124.521   21.683 + 0.391
31.  Mike Bliss          Chevrolet   124.458   21.694 + 0.402
32.  Dave Blaney         Toyota      124.372   21.709 + 0.417
33.  Sam Hornish Jr      Dodge       124.218   21.736 + 0.444
34.  Elliott Sadler      Dodge       123.967   21.780 + 0.488
35.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet   123.944   21.784 + 0.492
36.  Joe Nemechek        Toyota      123.893   21.793 + 0.501
37.  Bobby Labonte       Ford        123.694   21.828 + 0.536
38.  Casey Mears         Chevrolet   123.683   21.830 + 0.538
39.  John Andretti       Chevrolet   123.581   21.848 + 0.556
40.  Michael Waltrip     Toyota      123.446   21.872 + 0.580
41.  Michael McDowell    Toyota      123.125   21.929 + 0.637
42.  Paul Menard         Ford        123.080   21.937 + 0.645
43.  Max Papis           Toyota      122.772   21.992 + 0.700