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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Mark Martin bumped Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne from the pole at Daytona International Speedway with a qualifying run that put him in elite company.
Martin turned a lap of 182.065 mph in a Chevrolet to win his first pole of the season, but 50th of his career. He’s only the eighth driver in NASCAR history to win 50 poles.
“I’ve had the pleasure of driving a lot of fast race cars and working with a lot of great teams and people through the years and I’m really grateful for that,” Martin said. “This is really special because I know how much work goes into the four restrictor plate races each year by Hendrick Motorsports. It’s really pretty cool to be a part of that team.
“I really didn’t expect to get the pole. When I ran, it could have been first or 21st.”
The milestone run for the 52-year-old came in his 811th start and at a track where he’s winless in 52 career starts. But he doesn’t question his lack of success at Daytona, even though he’ll line up Saturday night next to baby-faced Bayne, who turned 20 just days before winning the Daytona 500 in his first career start.
“You know what? I’m pretty darn lucky to have gotten to race at Daytona, period, much less 53 times,” Martin said. “I’ve survived some really hard crashes here and I’ve had some good times here. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.
“The place doesn’t owe me a thing. Matter of fact, I owe the place and the sport a great deal for just letting me be a part of it.”
Bayne held the pole for much of the qualifying session until Martin’s late run bettered his lap of 182.002 in a Ford. It’s been a whirlwind five months since Bayne won the 500, a victory that launched him into stardom.
But his season was paused when he was hospitalized for a week in May and treated for what doctors at the Mayo Clinic called an inflammatory condition but Bayne believes was Lyme disease. He originally thought he had been bitten on his arm by a spider a few weeks before symptoms that included double vision landed him in the hospital.
Bayne has run just one Sprint Cup race, two weeks ago at Michigan, since his release.
“Coming into the tunnel, it didn’t sink in that I was coming back to Daytona,” he said. “The next day, when I got on the track in the Nationwide car, as soon as I pulled onto the track, I realized that my last lap here was a victory lap. So as soon as you’re making that first lap you’re kind of going through the motions again and kind of feeling how you felt the last time.
“That was the biggest eye-opener and kind of cold-chill moment for me.”
Clint Bowyer, who had a chance to win the 500 until he was involved in a late accident, qualified third in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He was followed by Jeff Gordon, who is Martin’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports and has already said he’s committed to working with Martin in Saturday night’s race.
David Ragan, who lost his shot to win the 500 when NASCAR penalized him for passing too early on a late restart, qualified fifth in a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is marking the 10-year anniversary of his emotional 2001 win here, qualified sixth for Hendrick Motorsports.
Andy Lally, a sports car veteran who led TRG Motorsports to a two-lap victory in the Grand Touring class here in January in the prestigious Rolex 24, qualified a career-best seventh.
“Daytona is hands-down my most special place as far as a race track goes,” Lally said. “Having come here with the desire as a young kid to not only race in the Daytona 500, but then as my sports car career advanced, racing and winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, this has become the mecca for me.”
Jimmie Johnson was eighth, putting him in position to work with teammate Johnson. AJ Allmendinger was ninth in a Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10 for RCR.
J.J. Yeley and Tony Raines both failed to make the 43-car field.