Stewart won qualifying in NASCAR's top series for the first time in five years Friday, turning a lap of 191.327 mph at Texas Motor Speedway.
It's been 155 races since he last won the pole, at Martinsville in October 2005.
"I'm surprised," he said. "I'm really not much of a qualifier."
It's the third time Stewart has won the pole in Texas. He was the top qualifier twice in the IndyCar Series in the 1990s.
Former IRL star Sam Hornish Jr. , still winless in his third full Sprint Cup season, almost knocked Stewart off the pole. He settled for second with a lap of 191.232.
Greg Biffle , who was denied a seventh consecutive top-10 finish to start the season last week in Phoenix, qualified third for Sunday's race. Four-time defending Sprint Cup champion and points leader Jimmie Johnson was fourth.
MARTIN WON'T RETIRE: Mark Martin settled into a chair in the garage area at Texas Motor Speedway before practice Friday. No, it wasn't a rocker.
"I'm not going to retire," the 51-year-old driver said.
Martin was speaking publicly for the first time since Hendrick Motorsports this week signed Kasey Kahne as his replacement in the No. 5 Chevrolet after next season. He ended any speculation that he planned to abandon his Hendrick seat early, or quit driving when he does get out of that car at the end of the 2011 season.
"I'm racing in 2012," he said. "There will be an opportunity for me I'm sure that will be exciting and fun."
Where Kahne will race next season is uncertain because Hendrick has drivers under contract for its NASCAR limit of four cars -- Martin, Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne is in the last year of his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports.
Martin actually initiated talks with Kahne late last season about replacing him at Hendrick.
"I'm really, really excited," Martin said. "It's a perfect scenario. Kasey Kahne is a really right fit for this organization."
Kahne said the talks with Martin helped influence his decision and that he isn't too concerned about the 2011 season. His new deal with Hendrick goes through 2014.
The only thing certain is that Kahne will be with a Chevrolet team, and the most obvious option is Stewart-Haas Racing, which has a Hendrick alliance.
Stewart said Friday, though, that nobody has talked to him about that. But Stewart has said he would be interested in a third team "if the right opportunity, right driver and right sponsor came along."
GILLETT OPTIMISTIC: Richard Petty Motorsports co-owner Foster Gillett said his family remains committed to NASCAR and he expects to continue to field competitive teams despite losing Kahne after this season.
Specifically referring to the loss of Kahne, Gillett said: "It's something we need to learn from. I've focused on what we've done well, not what we haven't done well."
Gillett said he believed Kahne would finish out the season and that his No. 9 team would contend for a title.