News & Media

Martin on right track for another Daytona pole

February 12, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Wins both pre-qualifying practices as NASCAR tries to slow cars down

Mark Martin hopes to recapture the magic that propelled him to a second-place Cup Series points finish in 2009.

Clearly, he's on the right track.

Daytona 500

Practice 2
2.Jimmie Johnson184.991
3.Jeff Burton184.763
4.Trevor Bayne184.763
5.Paul Menard184.699

Martin, who won the pole for the Daytona 500 last year, led both Cup practice sessions Saturday at Daytona International Speedway in sessions limited to single-car runs, as drivers prepared for Sunday's time trials at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. ET.

With a top speed of 185.311 mph in the second session, Martin was the only driver to exceed 185 mph in either practice. Apparently, a change in crew chiefs from Alan Gustafson to Lance McGrew hasn't slowed the 52-year-old driver.

"Magic is sort of intangible," Martin said. "It's not something you can reach out and touch. We had magic going on in 2009, and we had magic going on in 1998 [when Martin finished second in points to Jeff Gordon], and I am aware of it.

"I'm working hard to try to create it and maintain it through 2011 with Lance and my team."

Recapturing the magic, however, doesn't mean contemplating back-to-back poles for the 500. That's not in Martin's chemistry.

"I'm not even thinking about that," Martin said. "I can't think about it. You never know at this place with the wind and the sunshine ... you just don't know. We go out early [sixth], and I'm not going to think about the pole and worry about getting it until there's only about three or four cars left."

Jamie McMurray, last year's Daytona 500 winner, cut a tire as he sped into Turn 1 with about 10 minutes left in the first practice session and scraped the wall with his No. 1 Chevrolet. McMurray had just started to run a high line when the accident occurred.

"It looked like we ran over something on the race track, and that's what cut the tire down," McMurray said. "Fortunately, though, you're on your first lap so high that we were right against the wall, and it did minimal damage to the car.

"But they still have to take it home and put a new side on it and get it fixed up. It's not tore up near as bad as it could be."

Nevertheless, McMurray's team unloaded a backup car, which he'll race in the Daytona 500. The backup is the same car McMurray raced to a second-place finish behind Kevin Harvick at Talladega last April.

NASCAR made a competition change Saturday morning that should limit the number of consecutive laps Cup cars can run in two-car hookups before swapping positions, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said.

"We told them to remove an auxiliary air hose, which provides more cool air to the engines," Tharp said.

With Joey Logano topping the speed chart at 203.087 mph in Friday night's practice for the Shootout, NASCAR opted for the change. The result will be the car that is pushing in a two-car draft will tend to overheat more quickly, forcing the cars to break apart and swap positions sooner than they have been in practice.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday night that two cars could run together for three to five laps before having to separate and swap positions. The removal of the auxiliary hose will reduce that number.

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique, with only the top two drivers locked into their starting positions. The time trials, however, help set the starting order for Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races, which will fill out the starting grid.

Denny Hamlin must start from the rear in his Duel after blowing and changing an engine during Saturday's practice. Should Hamlin win a front-row spot during Sunday's time trials, he would still start from the front row in the 500.

Drivers drew lots for Sunday's qualifying order. Brad Keselowski will go out first, with McMurray 14th. Starting with the Feb. 27 race at Phoenix, NASCAR will set qualifying order based on practice speeds (the average of the top speeds in prequalifying sessions).