Martin Truex Jr and Mark Martin are the two men who know where they'll start next Sunday's Daytona 500, having snared the top two times in qualifying for the blue riband event.

Despite a qualifying session that occupied nearly three hours, no other driver is certain where he'll start the first Sprint Cup points race, with the remaining 54 hopefuls battling over spots in the Gatorade Duels scheduled for Thursday.

Truex toured the 2.5-mile Daytona superspeedway in 47.872secs (188.001mph) to knock Martin's 187.817mph effort off the provisional pole for the 51st running of the 500. Truex and Martin, who were team-mates at Dale Earnhardt Inc last season, will lead the field to the green flag next Sunday, while Truex will also start from the pole in the first of Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races and Martin from top spot in the second.

The results of the Duels will determine the starting order for the rest of the field. The top two finishers in each Duel from outside the top 35 in 2008 owner points make the race, along with the next three fastest qualifiers not already locked in.

"We're excited about it," Truex said, having claimed his second Cup Series pole after that at Texas in November 2007, "It's not important to qualify up front, but we've never had a shot at the pole before, and it's nice to come here and have a shot. I felt a good bit [of wind] down the back, but it didn't seem to slow the car down too much. It was just kind of blowing me toward the bottom. It was more of a crosswind than a headwind, which was good."

Competing for the first time under Stewart-Haas Racing banner, Ryan Newman made light of the fact that he was ineligible for Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout - as were the rest of the top five - by posting a 187.778mph lap good enough for third in the time trials. Newman was followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, at 187.743mph, and veteran Bill Elliott, who maintained his practice pace with a 187.739mph effort.

Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola - the third Earnhardt Ganassi car in the top ten - Travis Kvapil, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart posted times fast enough to fill sixth through tenth respectively. Elliott, Kvapil and Stewart also definitely qualified for the 500. Their cars are not in the carry-over top 35 in owner points, but qualified by posting the top three speeds among drivers required to race their way into the field.

Elliott, who topped the speed charts in both Cup practice sessions on Saturday, made a valiant run at the pole, but his #21 Wood Brothers Ford scrubbed off speed through the final corner and fell to fifth at the chequered flag.

Another veteran is also secure for next Sunday, despite posting only the 50th-fastest time. Terry Labonte also knows he will compete in the 500 even if he doesn't race his way into the field in his Duel, as he can use a past champion's provisional to claim the 43rd starting position.

Led by Truex's #1 Earnhardt Ganassi entry, Chevrolets posted the four fastest qualifying times and eight of the top ten. Elliott had the fastest Ford, with Kyle Busch the quickest Toyota, in 15th, and Reed Sorenson the fastest Dodge, in 28th.

For the record, Dale Earnhardt Jr was twelfth fastest, one place ahead of Saturday's Budweiser Shootout polesitter Paul Menard, while reigning rookie of the year Regan Smith claimed 14th in his first outing with Furniture Row Racing. Scott Speed was the best-placed of the current rookie crop, in 17th, four spots ahead of the mercurial Joey Logano, while all-rounder Boris Said managed to break the top 20.

Jamie McMurray, who finished second to Kevin Harvick in the Shootout, was 24th, one behind Ford stablemate Matt Kenseth and a long way ahead of Harvick, who managed a lowly 49th. Carl Edwards, who finished as runner-up in both the Cup and Nationwide Series in 2008, was 26th.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



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