INDIANAPOLIS The merger last week of one of stock car racing s major players Dale Earnhardt Inc. with one of its struggling, minor teams Ginn Racing has brought about an unexpected opportunity for one of the sport s true veterans to join forces with one of its brightest stars.
Mark Martin, who was a contemporary of Dale Earnhart Sr., became a teammate of Dale Earnhardt Jr. when the deal was announced. Martin, who left Roush Racing following last season to work for Ginn, will team with Junior for the remainder of 2007. The younger Earnhardt moves to Hendrick Motorsports for 2008.
This is something that I find exciting, and not something I expected to happen, Martin said as he prepared for today s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. I think Dale Sr. would be pleased with the way things have worked out.
Earnhardt Jr. certainly seems happy about the opportunity to work with Martin, a veteran of more than 20 Nextel Cup seasons, and a guy who has 35 wins and 381 top 10 finishes in his career. Martin was second in this season s Daytona 500, and has six top 10 finishes in just 14 starts this year.
I ve always liked Mark, and he taught me and he taught Matt Kenseth and a lot of guys that raced against him in the Busch Series so much about racing and etiquette and patience and how much there is out there in your race car, Earnhardt Jr. said.
I ve seen him do things in a race car that I just couldn t believe. Those are the things that you have to see with your own eyes to understand. You just don t know the limits when you re at that age and when you re where I was experience-wise, he was out there teaching me and Matt and a couple of other guys how to get it done and how to do it right. So we built up a pretty good respect for each other since then.
Martin said he is comfortable in the role of mentor, if that is where his teammates would like him to be.
If I can play some kind of leadership role on the team, that is fine with me because I enjoy helping people that are interested in being helped, Martin said. It is flattering that they refer to me in that role.
SORENSON ON POLE: Twenty-one-year-old Reed Sorenson, the youngest regular driver in the Nextel Cup Series, made the first pole of his Cup career a big one, putting himself on the inside of the front row for today s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Sorenson, in just his second season of full-time racing at the Cup level, is 28th in points with two top 10 finishes this year.
Rain wiped out Friday s practice sessions and pushed yesterday s schedule so that qualifying took place in the early evening, but that delay did not seem to affect Sorenson, who had the second car out on the track and then watched his average speed of 184.207 mph on his qualifying lap hold up.
I thought there would be faster cars after us, and I think this is the first time I ve been nervous after qualifying. I don t even have the words for it right now, Sorenson said. Our cars have been running really good on these types of tracks,, so hopefully we can run up front all day tomorrow. We want to make some more history [today], and kiss those bricks.
Sorenson led a dominant qualifying performance by Chip Ganassi Racing, as his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya qualified second and David Stremme 12th.
Obviously, this is an important place in the world of racing, and it s important to do well here, and we did well today, Ganassi said. We have a lot of experience here in a lot of different cars, and that means a lot. To win here, it would be hard to put into words.
MARVELOUS MONTOYA: Nextel Cup rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, who has never raced a stock car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before, stunned the field for today s race by qualifying second. It will be the first front-row start in Montoya s brief Cup career.
Montoya averaged 183.494 mph in his fast lap around the two-and-a-half mile oval.
It was nice to go out there and show everyone what this team can do, Montoya said.
Montoya, who earned his first Nextel Cup win a few weeks ago at Infineon Raceway in California, has a history of success here, but in the open-wheel ranks. He won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000.
HOT QUALIFIERS: Ryan Newman, Nextel Cup s Rocket Man who entered this season with 37 poles in 188 career races, and has added four more poles this year, qualified in the third position for today s race, meaning Dodges took the top three positions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a Chevy continued a hot qualifying streak by nailing down the fourth starting positon, his sixth time starting in one of the front 10 positions in the last nine races.
TOUGH TIMES: Four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon, this year s Nextel Cup points leader, had a difficult time in qualifying and will start 21st in today s race.
I think we ve got a real good race car in this DuPont Chevrolet, and I m not going to worry too much about qualifying, Gordon said.
I m real proud of this race team and the cars we re bringing to the race track. Even if we had a really bad day today, I d still feel optimistic.
Jimmie Johnson, Gordon s Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the defending champion here, qualified 19th.