Scott Dixon said his commanding pole run at Motegi was down to luck - after delivering a stunning four-lap average on a dirty track and having been woken up just moments earlier.
The New Zealander was sleeping in the cockpit of his Ganassi Dallara-Honda while waiting to qualify when Helio Castroneves crashed on the exit of Turn 4. Just three positions ahead of Dixon in the qualifying order, Castroneves left debris and oil down the frontstretch and into Turn 1.
A few minutes later, Dixon laid down an uncannily consistent run of laps at 27.0878s, 27.0801s, 27.0878s and 27.0843s for his second pole of the season and an important point in the championship standings.
"I guarantee you the data won't be the same on any of those laps," Dixon laughed afterwards. "I don't know why that happened. I'd put that down to luck."
He said Castroneves' crash had been a literal wake-up call for him.
"I'd fallen asleep," Dixon admitted. "I tend to do that sometimes when I get nervous or get ready to go out on the track. I'll sort of nod off. It wasn't until they came on the radio and said Helio had hit that I woke up.
"It's not good when someone crashes before you go out. You don't know how much fluid is out there or how much oil dry they're going to use. You can't really see where it is. You're constantly thinking about little things."
Dixon's pole run was critical in the championship battle. He trails leader Ryan Briscoe – who qualified fourth – by 32 points heading into Saturday's race.
Dario Franchitti, who will start third, is 25 points behind Briscoe and needs to finish third or better to stay in the championship standings.
"That was it, man," Franchitti said after his qualifying effort. "On the second lap I went into Turn 3 flat. When I eventually lifted and downshifted, the car was sideways. That was all I had. We're going to have to make things happen tomorrow, aren't we? We're going to have to gamble a little."
Briscoe reckons he will need to be cautiously aggressive in the race.
"If I don't win it, one of the Ganassi cars probably will," Briscoe said. "Twenty-five points might sound like a lot, but it doesn't seem like much to me.
"We've got to go out and try to beat those guys. That usually means winning the race. The pressure is on them to beat me, but it's definitely not a comfortable situation for me. It's the equivalent of a six-point lead in Formula 1. Our points system just makes it sound like it's more than it really is."