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Martin, Earnhardt earn top two starting spots at Daytona

Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr put Hendrick Motorsports on top of the pile in qualifying for the Daytona 500
Three weeks ago, at a Fan Fest appearance at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke of a renewed spirit of cooperation at the Hendrick Motorsports shop shared by the #5 and #88 teams.

What Earnhardt termed a "change in culture" spurred by personnel moves within the shop was in full flower Saturday at Daytona.

Mark Martin, who led NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series with seven poles last year, added another his resume, putting his #5 Chevy in the top starting spot for the Feb. 14 season-opening Daytona 500. Navigating the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 47.074 seconds (191.188 mph), Martin edged Earnhardt (190.913 mph) for the pole.

Those two drivers, who will start first and second in the 52nd running of NASCAR's most prestigious race, are the only two who know their positions on the grid for the Valentine's Day event. The starting order for the rest of the 43-car field won't be determined until Thursday, with the running of the two Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races.

Team owner Rick Hendrick lavished praise on crew chiefs Alan Gustafson (Martin) and Lance McGrew (Earnhardt).

"The challenge was to run one team with two cars, and then to have those two cars down here that ran almost identical times," Hendrick said. "I know this is just one race, but no one here, and no one outside our company will know the effort Alan and Lance put into this team and these two cars, and I'm really proud of them."

Martin, who won his first Daytona 500 pole and the 49th of his career, tying Bobby Isaac for eighth all-time, echoed those sentiments.

"This is such a great accomplishment for the 5 and 88 teams," Martin said. "That was not an accomplishment of mine. It is one of all our guys on this team. To have Dale Jr. on the outside of the front row, locked in, just means that we are doing stuff right."

Ryan Newman (190.577 mph) was third quickest in Saturday's time trials, followed by Wood Brothers Ford driver Bill Elliott (190.573 mph), the fastest of the 19 drivers required to make the field on speed. Elliott, Scott Speed (13th) and Joe Nemechek (16th) - the three quickest in the go-or-go-home group - all know they'll start the race, but won't know their starting positions until the Duels are run.

The other 16 drivers whose cars are not locked into the field by virtue of top-35 owner points finishes in 2009 must try to race their way into the 500 on Thursday. Bobby Labonte, however, is guaranteed a place in the field as the most recent past Cup champion not already exempt, regardless of his finish in the Duels.




Related Pictures

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No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet - Mark Martin [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place Saturday night, August 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Denny Hamlin in action. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in third place Sunday, August 16, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Regan Smith, driver of the #7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway on 30 May 2015. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in eleventh place Sunday, August 9, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Chevrolet SS, qualifies for second position Saturday, August 8, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. Joining him on the front row will be pole winner AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevrolet SS. Truex Jr. is fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position Saturday, August 8, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. Joining him on the front row will be Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Chevrolet SS. Allmendinger is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing) (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevrolet SS, celebrates after capturing the pole position Saturday, August 8, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. Joining him on the front row will be Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Chevrolet SS. Allmendinger is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 2, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Microsoft Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place Sunday, August 2, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eighth position Saturday, July 25, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Earnhardt, Jr. is fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in fifth place on Sunday, July 19, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position, Friday, July 10, 2015, for Saturday night`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. Positions are based on practice times since the qualifying session was cancelled due to inclement weather. Truex, Jr. is fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Following in second place is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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