Martin Motors To Bristol Pole

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Mark Martin has had a bad year, and he doesn’t try to hide that fact.

However, on Friday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway, Martin went a long way into getting his 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series hopes back on track when he won the pole for Sunday’s Food City 500.

“This is the first time they’ve let me in the media center this year,” Martin joked after being filed in to face questions. “It’s good to be here.”

Entering the race at the .533-mile track, where he’s won on two occasions, Martin showed there’s still a little life left in his No. 6 Viagra Ford with his lap at 126.303 mph. That edged second-place qualifier Sterling Marlin. Kevin Harvick, Rusty Wallace and Todd Bodine rounded out the Top 5.

After his run, Martin seemed a bit in awe that he’d ended a pole drought that dated back to 1999, for the 40th pole of his career.

“We’ve had a few glimpses this year of what it used to be like for us,” Martin said of the struggles Roush Racing has gone through in the first five races of the year. “My record of late hasn’t been a cause for a great deal of motivation, but you can believe this pole is cause for exuberance.

“Everybody can’t run up front all the time like they want to, it all works in a cycle because some of the teams that were hot last year aren’t this year. A good example of that is the Gibbs’ teams because they’re not performing like they were last year. That doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong, it means it’s real competitive and shows you there are things you can’t control. We can’t always do the best job of anybody in the garage area.”

For now, Martin – currently 23rd in points – is shifting his focus from starting up front to finishing there.

“Today was our time, now all I can think about is how I’m going to make this car stay up front for 500 laps on Sunday,” Martin said. “I didn’t want to get too excited before I had (the pole) wrapped up. This is the way things used to feel, but we’ve still got our work cut out for us.”

Not only did Martin surprise himself a bit, he also crashed the hopes of Harvick, who was on the pole during most of Friday’s qualifying before Martin and Marlin turned in quicker speeds to move the rookie driver back to third.

Marlin’s lap continued what has been an impressive start of the season for the Dodge driver… who happens to be from Tennessee.

“We’ll see what happens, we’ve got a good car,” Marlin said. “We came up here and tested last week and we felt like we had a real good car, but Mark was just a little bit quicker than we were all day. I figured he was going to be tough to beat. We’ve been knocking on the door, maybe we can get us a win here at Bristol.”

Rounding out the Top 10 were Bobby Hamilton, Kyle Petty, Dave Blaney, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ken Schrader.

For Harvick, his third-place effort continues what has been an incredible start to his Winston Cup career.

“That was pretty good for us,” said Harvick, who won the pole for Saturday’s Busch race only an hour earlier. “But then again, we’ve had a good car since we unloaded here, both the Winston Cup and Busch car. It would have been pretty neat to win a pole for a Busch and Winston Cup race on the same day, but we’ve got a good place to start on Sunday.”

Other drivers of note were Ricky Rudd (14th), Jeff Gordon (15th), Steve Park (17th), Dale Jarrett (19th), Jeremy Mayfield (30th), Jeff Burton (32nd) and Kevin Lepage (40th).

Three drivers – Hut Stricklin, Jason Leffler and Carl Long – failed to qualify for Sunday’s race.

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