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Martin dominates Brickyard qualifying
26 July 2009
An early qualifying draw helped, but so did the muscle under the hood of Mark Martin's #5 Chevrolet as the veteran translated practice pace into qualifying supremacy at Indianapolis.
Even though he felt he didn't get the maximum out of his qualifying lap for Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Martin dominated Saturday's time trials with a lap of 182.054mph. That was more than good enough for Martin's fourth pole of the season as the 50-year old was the only driver to top 182mph.
In fact, Martin was the only driver to top 181 mph as Juan Pablo Montoya, who will start beside Martin on the front row, turned a best lap at 180.803mph, while, driving the first car built from the ground up by new crew chief Lance McGrew, Dale Earnhardt Jr overcame a recent bout of stomach flu to qualify third at 180.567mph. Veteran Bill Elliott was fourth, followed by David Reutimann.
“It was a solid, fast lap we turned,” said Martin, who won his 45th career pole, tying him with Buck Baker for tenth on the all-time list, “The car just slid a lot more than [Friday practice]. I got an optimum lap yesterday, but that [qualifying] lap was far from optimum.
“The car was capable of more. The track takes so long to get around. By the time I got to turn three, I was scared. By the time I got [through] three, I had barely survived three corners, and that fourth corner, I just drew back a little bit.”
At 50, Martin is the oldest pole winner of a major event at the Brickyard.
“I like making history,” he said, having been the third driver to make a qualifying attempt and benefited from a cooler racing surface during a session whose start was postponed by rain, from 1010hrs ET to 1400hrs.
Earnhardt, meanwhile, said he felt much better on Saturday, having claimed his first top ten start of the season.
“We didn't come in till Friday morning, and I felt just terrible before we flew out,” he revealed, “I had a stomach bug, about a 24-hour bug, Thursday night. It was about the worst thing I ever went through in my life, but I am feeling much better. I'm just getting a lot of fluids. We're ready to go
"[Friday] was just a really frustrating, miserable day for me physically. It didn't really seem to bother us how we ran or what we needed to get done. But I felt a lot better [Saturday] and a lot more confident.
"The car is pretty good. We are hoping to get some more practice this afternoon to work on it some more. .I am going to run all the practice laps this afternoon but, just as a safety precaution, I got Brad [Keselowski] here and he might have to get in the car for a lap or two just in case something happens on Sunday, where we might need him. It is probably all just a waste of time, but we're going to do it, just to be safe."
Elliott, meanwhile, was delighted to join Martin in defying the supposed age barrier and put his Wood Brothers Ford into the top four.
“All that kept going through my head was [the race] here a year ago and how bad we screwed up qualifying," he admitted, "It hurt so bad missing this race a year ago and being able to come back here [is great]. Len and Eddie [Wood] have really worked to give me something to drive and I've been working my butt off making sure that I have not let them down on the other side. With David Hyder and all the guys we've still got, all the guys that keep this thing going week in and week out, we've kind of meshed. Now I'm gonna give it my best shot - if a 50-year old can win, I think a few more years ain't gonna hurt a thing.”
Behind Reutimann, Brian Vickers, points leader Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorensen and Clint Bowyer completed the top ten, with four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon down in 22nd position. Veteran Terry Labonte completed the field after claiming a champions' provisional for the Carter/Simo team.
"We were off a little bit yesterday, so we had to make some pretty big changes," Gordon revealed, "I think we made some improvements, but we are still fighting it a little bit and that just wasn't our best effort that lap. So, we will just have to come from behind. The tyres are good enough to where we can maybe play around with some pit strategy. Hopefully, we can just get the car dialled in in the next practice and have a car that can drive up through the field. We certainly have our work cut out for us, but we are up for the challenge."
Qualifying didn't go as planned for Kurt Busch, as something went haywire with the front end of the #2 Dodge. Busch, currently fourth in points, couldn't keep the nose of the car close to the asphalt as it bounced around the 2.5-mile speedway, and recorded a lap that, at 175.428mph, was nearly 7mph slower than Martin's pole speed to leave him 40th overall.
“We're not sure what happened,” Busch admitted, “We'll have to let the team figure out what's wrong. It's something with the front shocks/bump-rubber combinations. I just don't know. We'll disect it and figure it out before [Sunday].”
Elliott was the only Ford to make the top ten, with twelfth-placed Greg Biffle the next best Blue Oval runner. Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth managed only 24th and 25th, with Carl Edwards a lowly 41st and calling on owners' points to make the field.
“That's bad," the Nationwide race winner commented, "We just have to work harder on our qualifying. The race car there, I just couldn't get it into the corner - on the entry, it feels like you're gonna wreck. It's really hard to get a lap and I missed the line into turn two because I turned in and felt the rear end come around just a little. I chased it up and I could never get it back down on the bottom. We'll work hard on race trim and, luckily, we have some more practice, as we were actually faster than
that in race trim yesterday. This is about the worst we've ever been [in qualifying], but maybe it's what we need right now to remind us that that's important too.”by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service