The floodgates are open.

After breaking a 257-race pole drought at Atlanta two weeks ago, Mark Martin topped his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session, streaking around the 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in 15.256 seconds (125.773mph) Friday to win the pole for Sunday's Food City 500.

Martin won back-to-back poles for the second time in his career, having claimed the top starting spot for the April 1989 races at Darlington and Bristol.

"It felt really, really good," said the 50-year-driver of the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who edged Ryan Newman (125.740 mph) for the pole by 0.004 seconds. "The car was really fast and it was really comfortable."

Good starts are nothing new to Martin this year. Now he needs a good finish. Blown engines at California and Las Vegas and a blown tire at Atlanta have dropped him to 34th in the Cup championship standings.

"With the things that have happened to us in the races, it was good to show people that we've still got speed in the car," said Martin, who claimed the 43rd pole of his career. "We've got speed, and the other part will come around sooner or later."

Martin's team-mate, Jimmie Johnson (125.453 mph), will start third, followed by Greg Biffle (125.289 mph) and Kasey Kahne (124.954 mph). David Reutimann, Reed Sorenson, Dave Blaney, Jamie McMurray and series points leader Jeff Gordon will start from positions six through 10, respectively.

Newman, whose luck has been almost as bad as Martin's through the first four races of the season, was happy to have righted the ship.

"Fortunately, it worked out the way it was supposed to, with the exception of the four one-thousandths that we lost by," said Newman, who won poles for the spring races at Bristol in 2003 and 2004.

Johnson, who has never won at Bristol, also got the track position he was looking for, as the three-time defending Cup champion seeks to improve his 13th-place position in the points standings.

After wrecking in practice, Michael Waltrip qualified 21st in a backup car. Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield failed to qualify for Sunday's race.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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