31 October 2009
Qualifying rainout puts Johnson, Martin on front row
Rain at Talladega hands pole for the AMP Energy 500 to defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson
If Clint Eastwood had been at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday to ask Mark Martin his iconic movie question, "Do I feel lucky?" Martin's answer would have been an emphatic affirmative.
With the qualifying session for Sunday's AMP Energy 500 cancelled because of rain, Martin will start on the outside of the front row beside NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader and Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR's qualifying rainout rules stipulate that the top 35 positions are set according to owner-points rank. Consequently, the twelve drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will start from the top twelve spots, with the exception of Kasey Kahne, who will drop to the rear of the field in his #9 Dodge because of an engine change.
"This is the most relaxed I've been going into Talladega in the last ten years," said Martin, whose crash five laps into the April race at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate superspeedway is emblematic of the struggles he's had there. "I just really feel good. I feel like this is going to be our lucky day."
Martin, who trails Johnson by 118 points in the Chase standings, said his car was "just average with the field" during Friday's practice and blamed himself for totalling two superspeedway cars in his last three plate races.
"We'll go out here tomorrow and race and hope that we can keep it in the front half, but my experience says that you're going to cycle throughout the field,” he said. “The one thing I don't see me doing is riding in the back. I'm going to race tomorrow (Sunday) - and I've told everybody this - I'm going to race tomorrow like there's no way that I can be in a wreck - and I feel lucky."
Behind Johnson on the front row, Jeff Gordon completes the Hendrick trifecta in the third starting position. Tony Stewart rolls off fourth, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.
With 44 entries for 43 starting spots, Regan Smith's #78 Chevrolet would have missed the race based on fewest number of qualifying attempts this season, but on Saturday, Front Row Motorsports withdrew the #37 Dodge driven by Tony Raines, and Smith inherited the 43rd position on the grid.
Smith was on the losing end of a NASCAR ruling in last fall's Talladega race, when he was dropped from first to 18th at the finish for a last-lap pass below the yellow line that separates the racing surface from the apron.
Tony Stewart, who crossed the finish line second, was declared the winner of the event.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News
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