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Martin secures Atlanta pole

After topping the speed chart in Friday's practice, Mark Martin blistered Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 29.640-second lap to win the pole for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 1.54-mile track.

All Martin has to do now is find a way to finish the race in his #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, after turning a lap that left him breathless and shaking.

''I live to scare myself like that,'' said Martin, who dropped out of the last two Cup races, at Fontana and Las Vegas, because of engine failures. ''This is the first real solid step at turning our thing around. This is cool. This is really cool. All it really is that we won a competition.

''It doesn't really have any implications for Sunday, but we won a competition tonight.''

The pole was Martin's first since the May 2001 event at Richmond, 281 races ago. Since then, the veteran driver, 50, has qualified second 16 times, including six times last year.

Kurt Busch will start on the outside of the front row after turning a lap at 186.365mph. Jamie McMurray (186.309 mph) qualified third, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya (186.209 mph) and Greg Biffle (186.184 mph).

Denny Hamlin will start sixth, one spot ahead of three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who is looking to improve his 19th-place position in the Cup championship standings. Joe Nemechek, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will start from positions eight through ten, respectively.

''I think everybody saw that lap go up on the board and went, 'I can't touch that - I'm not even close,''' Kurt Busch said of Martin's qualifying effort. ''I'm surprised that we're second. I think some people had better laps than we did, but we ran a different groove.

''We ran a lane up (toward the outside of the track). We were slower through the corners but faster down the straightaways.''

Todd Bodine, Scott Riggs, Jeremy Mayfield and Geoff Bodine failed to qualify for the race, while rookie Joey Logano will start 42nd on an owner points provisional after a lap at 181.938 mph. Nemechek (185.922 mph) was fastest among drivers required to qualify on speed.


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