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New chapter, same story?

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Feb. 06, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Go Daddy represents more than Mark Martin’s sponsor.

It could also be his rallying cry this season.

Martin got off to a fast start Saturday in his quest for his first Daytona 500 victory, winning the pole for next Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series opener.

Martin’s lap at 191.188 mph knocked his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., off the top qualifying spot. That made Martin, a 51-year-old father of one, the oldest pole winner in the historic track’s 51-year history.

The oldest Daytona pole winner had been Dale Jarrett, who was 48 when he posted the fastest qualifying lap for the 2005 Daytona 500.

“It’s time, it’s time," Martin said. "You know, we haven’t done it yet. So this is the best shot I’ve had, or as good,” he said. “I had some really good shots and didn’t get it done, but think we have our best chance now.

“This is something I’ve stood and watched for 26 years or so with envy.”

Martin has come close to winning NASCAR’s biggest race several times, most recently in 2007. He and Kevin Harvick were in a tight battle for the lead when a late caution came out, securing Harvick’s win.

“I almost won two different races in the No. 8 car (for Dale Earnhardt Inc.). I had a chance to drive the No. 5 car, I knew. More than anything else, I knew that I would regret for the rest of my life not taking that opportunity,” Martin said.

“And, boy, was I right about that.”

It should come as no surprise Martin is joined on the front row by a Hendrick teammate. Three Hendrick drivers finished first, second and third in the series standings last season.

Having Earnhardt in the second spot, however, might qualify as a shock considering the difficult year he had in 2009, going winless and finishing 25th in series points.

“No one will know the amount of effort and work this 5 (and) 88 shop put in over the off-season,” said team owner Rick Hendrick.

Earnhardt was fastest in Friday’s practice session, which was cut short by rain. Teammates Martin and Jeff Gordon were right behind him.

Earnhardt was the first Hendrick driver to qualify and went to the top of the speed chart, but Martin bested him not long after.

"I would have liked to have gotten the pole, but at least we got our two Hendrick cars on the front row,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a tribute to a great organization.

“It’s fun to drive a car that performs like that. I am just glad the guys have done such a good job of putting it together. The engine is really, really amazing.”

Qualifying determined only the starting positions for the front row of the 43-car Daytona 500 field. The rest of the lineup will be set by virtue of teams’ performances in Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races.

Teams in the top 35 of car owner points last season are already assured starting spots in the 500 field.

Bill Elliott, Scott Speed and Joe Nemechek posted speeds Saturday that would assure their participation. Bobby Labonte could make the race based on a past champion’s provisional.

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