Martin makes his mark at Daytona


NASCAR’s season kicked off on Saturday with qualifying for this Sunday’s Daytona 500, followed by the Budweiser Shootout 75-lap non-points-scoring sprint race under the lights. Qualifying was swept by Hendrick Motorsports as veteran Mark Martin took pole and team-mate Dale Earnhardt Jr qualified on the outside front row. Thursday’s pair of 150-mile qualifying races will determine the rest of the field.


Rick Hendrick’s four-car Chevrolet operation is split into two separate shops, one for multiple champions Jimmie Johnson’s #48 car and Jeff Gordon’s #24, the other for Martin’s #5 and Earnhardt Jr’s #88. So last weekend’s qualifying performances were particularly sweet for the less well-lauded side of Hendrick’s team. And with restrictor plates cutting horsepower by almost half at Daytona, the drivers were quick to place all credit at the foot of Hendrick’s engine builders and bodymen.


“That was not an accomplishment of mine,” said Martin. “That was [crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] and all our guys, and to have Dale Jr on the front row just means we’re doing our stuff right.”

Added Dale Jr: “I got to thank the engine shop, mainly for the power, and all the guys in the bodyshop for making my car as slick as it is. Hendrick’s is a great organisation and the driver doesn’t have anything to do with it here at Daytona. It’s just all race car right there.”


Saturday night’s Bud Shootout was won by Kevin Harvick aboard one of Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolets. Harvick beat Kasey Kahne’s Richard Petty Ford and Jamie McMurray’s Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet after many of the favourites were taken out in accidents. Harvick believes he has a good combination for the 500 and is looking forward to Thursday’s qualifying races to get a better understanding of where everyone stacks up.


“Our handling package is fairly good,” he said. “Obviously, it’ll change as we go through the week because everything will shift to daytime temperatures. It was pretty cool tonight and there was probably a bit of added grip to what we’ll have during the 500 as rubber gets onto the race track. But our basic package is really good and tonight that’s what kept us up front.

“I wasn’t tending to one groove,” Harvick added. “I could run the top, bottom or middle and didn’t have to be picky about who I followed. I could go wherever I wanted, and that’s nice to have options like that. It lets you be pretty aggressive and this was an aggressive race. There was not a whole lot of thinking about what the consequences might be. It was all about whatever it took to go forward.”

Saturday afternoon’s 200-mile ARCA race was won by veteran Bobby Gerhart, who scored his sixth win at Daytona. Danica Patrick made her stock car debut in the race, qualifying 12th and finishing a respectable sixth after a collision with Nelson Piquet Jr. Piquet was also making his stock car debut and had to retire, but Patrick recovered and showed plenty of moxie by coming through the field to run with the leaders in the closing laps.

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