TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Stewart was on top of the scoring pole and two cars away from surprising the go-or-go-homers in qualifying Saturday for the Aaron's 499.
Then Joe Nemechek took the track and posted the only lap of the day at more than 187 mph.
Nemechek won the pole with a lap at 187.386 mph in the No. 78 Chevrolet, robbing Stewart of his first Sprint Cup pole of the season.
It also was the first 2008 pole for Nemechek, but his fourth at Talladega, the most among active drivers.
"I knew we had a chance when we went out there," Nemechek said. "But it's always stressful when you have to make the show on your qualifying laps."
Talladega is an impound race. The teams don't have a practice session after qualifying and crews can't make changes to the cars before the race.
Consequently, the teams that don't have a guaranteed spot set the cars up in qualifying trim to try to make the race.
The teams in the top 35 in owners' points use practice to prepare the car in race trim, so none of those drivers expected to win the pole.
Stewart almost did it, but his No. 20 Toyota was the only top-35 car in the top four. He has now qualified inside the top 10 in eight of his 19 Talladega starts, but he has yet to score a win there.
"It is important to me," Stewart said. "We've run second here six times in nine years, so a third of the races here I've run second. I'm ready to get one more spot finally."
Jon Wood, competing for the first time this season in his family's No. 21 Ford, qualified 12th. Wood left Alabama immediately after his qualifying run to fly to Kansas City and compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Kansas Speedway.
Jeff Gordon, who won both Talladega Cup races last year, starts 20th in the No. 24 Impala.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.