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Martin Truex, Mark Martin earn the first two positions for the Sprint Cup Daytona 500

Front row at a glance

Martin Truex captured the pole, his second in Sprint Cup, for next weekend's Daytona 500 at 188.001 mph. Mark Martin (187.817) is second for his first front-row start in the 500.

Daytona 500

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Daytona International Speedway. TV: Ch. 13

Inside

Jimmie Johnson, dealing with a cut finger from an accidental knife wound last month, will tough it out for the 500. 4C

Speedweeks schedule, 4C

Martin Truex at a glance

Age: 28

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Career wins: 1

Daytona 500 resume: 34th (2005); 16th (2006); 29th (2007); 20th (2008).

Can he win? Dale Jarrett (2000) was the last to win the Daytona 500 from the pole and starting in front is meaningless once the draft dance begins. Restrictor-plate racing is in the Earnhardt half of the EGR genetics, however, and perhaps Truex has gleaned some tricks from old buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH — Pole qualifying day was redemption day at Daytona International Speedway. The trick is stringing these kinds of days together at Daytona and beyond.

On Sunday, Martin Truex won the pole for next weekend's Daytona 500, providing a needed boost if not a turning point for a newly merged Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team that placed three cars in the top seven. And 50-year-old Mark Martin was second-best as he begins the second full-time phase of his career with powerful Hendrick Motorsports.

"I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on the stuff that goes on during the winter," Truex said. "We felt like we did what was good for our company and what was the right thing for all of us to do. So far it feels like a step in the right direction."

Truex captured his second career pole with a lap of 188.001 mph around the 2.5-mile superspeedway in the No. 1 Chevrolet. Martin topped out at 187.817 mph in the No. 5 Chevrolet, perpetuating the recent giddiness of a 27-year veteran whose mood has often been dour as Daytona 500 wins and championships eluded him in cruel manners.

"It's just the first competition we've had of this year, and it turned out really sweet," Martin said. "I hope it's just the first of many bright days."

For Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, the qualifying session was a chance to establish a toehold after an offseason of tumult. The flagging Ganassi and Dale Earnhardt Inc. operations merged, sloughed almost 200 employees and formed a three-car lineup of Truex, Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth-fastest) and Tampa native Aric Almirola (seventh).

Ganassi said there was "a lot of pain" in the offseason.

Richie Gilmore, chief operating officer of the Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technologies engine-building consortium that supplies motors to EGR, said a Bud Shootout win Saturday by RCR's Kevin Harvick and a pole by Truex is priceless.

"It's early in the week, but so far we've got a win under our belt and it's been a good Speedweeks," he said. "We've got so much history here, and everybody looks at this race as the first race of the year and where you stack up. We haven't had any testing, so to come out of the box and have your stuff look good is a big confidence-builder for sure."

RCR and DEI have five Daytona 500 wins combined. Truex's crew chief, Kevin Manion, said the pole-winning car was a DEI leftover that Almirola raced at Talladega last season.

Only the top two locked up spots in the 500. Ryan Newman, the 2008 winner, ran third-best with the new Stewart Haas Racing. Three-time defending Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson was sixth. Zephyrhills' David Reutimann was 18th.

Former series champion and two-time 500 winner Bill Elliott followed up two chart-topping practice sessions on Saturday by putting the Wood Brothers' No. 21 Ford fifth. He failed to qualify the car for the 500 last year. He was best among the 21 cars than needed to qualify on time or in the two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday. The fastest three of those — Elliott, Travis Kvapil (eighth) and Tony Stewart (10th) — qualified on speed Sunday, but their starting spots will be determined in the 150-mile duels. Terry Labonte secured a spot as a past series champion.

Seventeen drivers will vie for four remaining Daytona 500 spots in the qualifying races. Truex and Martin will retain their starting positions regardless of their finish in those races while the rest of the field is fluid.

Martin Truex, Mark Martin earn the first two positions for the Sprint Cup Daytona 500 02/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 9, 2009 7:26am]
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