DARRON CUMMINGS / AP Enlarge
INDIANAPOLIS - Mark Martin is not a braggart or a trash talker. He is as confident as any race car driver needs to be, but bravado is not in his repertoire.
So when the veteran of the Sprint Cup Series predicted in June that he would win one of the season's biggest races - today's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard - people snapped to attention and listened.
It was way out of character for Martin to make such a statement, but yesterday he began the process of backing it up. Martin, who ran his first full season in Cup in 1982, qualified second for the race. Martin will start on the outside of the front row, next to pole winner Jimmie Johnson.
"That's one step in not embarrassing myself," Martin said about putting his No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevy up front. Martin has run the Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway 14 times, and finished in the top 10 in nine of those races. He was second in 1998.
"The car wanted to go. It sure did," Martin said of his 49.616-second lap around the track, in which he averaged 181.393 mph. "You just can't know what it means to me to be competitive and to drive a fast race car.
"When I came out of turn 4 and came down to take the green flag, I thought, man, we've got something here. It's just phenomenal. It's really a lot of fun. It's really nice. There's been times when I thought times like this were done forever, and this is real special."
Johnson, who won here in 2006 but was 39th in last year's race after getting involved in an early accident, ran his qualifying lap in 49.515 seconds and averaged 181.763 mph in the Lowe's Chevy.
"We had a car that I could really be aggressive with. This track is kind of inviting and it sucked me into a few small mistakes when I was out there, but to put up a time like that, I'm just thankful for all of the hard work my guys have been doing," Johnson said.
"Experience definitely helps, especially on a track like this that you don't get the chance to test at and you only race at once a year."
Indiana native Ryan Newman qualified third in the No. 12
Alltel Dodge, and stressed the importance of putting your car up front, and keeping it there.
"This race means something to me since it's in Indiana, but it means more to me that it's Indianapolis," Newman said. "It's Indy. It's the Brickyard. It's the home of the 500 and 100 years of automotive racing. So to me, that means the most."
Kasey Kahne qualified fourth, while Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner of this race, qualified fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 11th, while Defiance's Sam Hornish Jr. was 38th. Bill Elliott, who won here in 2002, was one of four drivers who failed to qualify.
Hornish enhanced his chances considerably by running in the top 10 in the final practice session of the evening.39.76691 -86.14996