Marcos Ambrose strengthened his bid for a third straight victory at Watkins Glen by claiming the third NASCAR Sprint Cup pole position of his career.
He lapped the circuit in 1m08.777s in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford to deny Waltrip Toyota driver Clint Bowyer a first pole since 2007.
Ambrose, whose only wins in the series have come at Watkins Glen, was one of a number of drivers to beat the previous qualifying record.
Everyone back to Matt Kenseth in 10th was under Juan Pablo Montoya's record from last year of 1m09.438s.
Sonoma polesitter Jamie McMurray, running in the fourth qualifying group, looked like he might claim another road course pole when the fifth group of drivers - including points leader Jimmie Johnson - failed to depose the Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet.
That scenario appeared even likelier when the following group, led by Kurt Busch, failed to impose themselves on the pole battle, prompting fears the circuit was getting slower.
But as the session reached its climax, the top of the leaderboard changed.
First, Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger shuffled McMurray back, and then Bowyer looked to have snatched pole with a 1m08.929s.
Martin Truex Jr failed to beat Bowyer's benchmark as the final group began their effort, slipping into second, before Ambrose went 0.15s clear at the top.
Montoya and practice pacesetter Carl Edwards will line up 11th and 16th respectively after both drivers cut short underwhelming final efforts.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 1m08.777s 2. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 1m08.929s +0.152s 3. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 1m09.197s +0.420s 4. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Toyota 1m09.213s +0.436s 5. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota 1m09.231s +0.454s 6. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 1m09.245s +0.468s 7. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 1m09.369s +0.592s 8. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 1m09.372s +0.595s 9. Joey Logano Penske Ford 1m09.388s +0.611s 10. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 1m09.428s +0.651s 11. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 1m09.486s +0.709s 12. Michael McDowell Front Row Ford 1m09.546s +0.769s 13. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet 1m09.551s +0.774s 14. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 1m09.577s +0.800s 15. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 1m09.715s +0.938s 16. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 1m09.743s +0.966s 17. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 1m09.791s +1.014s 18. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 1m09.802s +1.025s 19. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 1m09.822s +1.045s 20. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota 1m09.884s +1.107s 21. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 1m09.931s +1.154s 22. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 1m09.952s +1.175s 23. Owen Kelly Phoenix Chevrolet 1m09.994s +1.217s 24. Ron Fellows Circle Sport Chevrolet 1m10.042s +1.265s 25. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 1m10.069s +1.292s 26. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 1m10.161s +1.384s 27. Boris Said FAS Lane Ford 1m10.163s +1.386s 28. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 1m10.228s +1.451s 29. Max Papis Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 1m10.229s +1.452s 30. Casey Mears Germain Ford 1m10.622s +1.845s 31. Davd Ragan Front Row Ford 1m10.646s +1.869s 32. Aric Almirola Petty Ford 1m10.677s +1.900s 33. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 1m10.800s +2.023s 34. Victor Gonzalez Jr Baldwin Chevrolet 1m11.199s +2.422s 35. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 1m11.273s +2.496s 36. David Reutimann BK Toyota 1m11.297s +2.520s 37. Alex Kennedy Humphrey Smith Toyota 1m11.309s +2.532s 38. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota 1m11.338s +2.561s 39. David Stremme Swan Toyota 1m11.616s +2.839s 40. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 1m11.652s +2.875s 41. Landon Cassill Circle Sport Chevrolet 1m12.293s +3.516s 42. Tomy Drissi NEMCO Toyta 1m13.320s +4.543s 43. Brian Keselowski Keselowski Toyota 1m14.165s +5.388s