JOHN RAOUX / AP Enlarge
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Martin Truex, Jr., has won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, while sentimental favorite Mark Martin qualified second.
Truex and Martin locked in their spots during yesterday's qualifying at Daytona International Speedway. Only the top two spots were secured under the complicated qualifying process for the Sunday race. The rest of the field will be set by a pair of 150-mile races Thursday.
Truex earned the pole by turning a lap at 188.001 mph in a Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The team is a merged effort of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing, organizations that joined up in late November when sponsorship difficulties threatened their race teams.
"That was exciting for all of us," Truex said after the last of 56 cars made their qualifying attempt.
"This is the first time we've come down here and felt like we had a shot at the pole here. It's a big deal, the Daytona 500, starting on the pole. We've got a lot of hard work in front of us this week still, but I'm excited for all the guys. It's a great way to start out the season."
It's only the second pole of Truex's career.
Martin, meanwhile, turned a lap at 187.817 in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The 50-year-old veteran is returning to full-time racing this season after running a partial schedule the past two years.
"Everybody on this race team is so charged up," Martin said. "It's just so fun to go to work every day and I'm glad it's just about ready to start."
Four other drivers were technically locked into the field, although their starting spots will not be determined until Thursday's qualifying races. But two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott, two-time series champion Tony Stewart and Travis Kvapil earned their way in by posting the fastest speeds among drivers not already assured a spot in the field.
Terry Labonte earned a berth in the field as the fastest former champion attempting to make the field.
Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate, posted the third-fastest speed of the session but was already locked into the field based on last season's points.29.20358 -81.03941