When the field takes the green flag for Saturday's Budweiser Shootout, indefatigable veteran contender Mark Martin will be on the sidelines.
The 1999 race winner, who moves from a part-time ride at Dale Earnhardt Inc to a full-time spot in Hendrick Motorsports' #5 Chevrolet, isn't eligible for the event under the new qualifying format - and is acutely aware of the advantage in track time that the 28 drivers in the field will enjoy.
Consequently, he's thinking more about the Daytona 500 on 15 February than he is about winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, which has eluded him for more than a quarter-century.
"We're starting a little bit behind as a race team," Martin admitted, "We haven't had an opportunity to work together before. We didn't work together last year. We're not in the Shootout, which puts us at a major [disadvantage].
"I feel really left out because there are 28 cars - more than ever - and this is the first time in 20 years that I haven't been in that race. We won't even hit the racetrack in race trim until Wednesday, and they all hit it [on Friday], so we have a lot more important things to be worried about than trying to worry about whether or not we can win that Cup."
Martin will practice in qualifying trim on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's Daytona 500 time trials.by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service