Golden oldie: Martin’s fairy tale season now includes pole at IndianapolisBy Jenna Fryer, AP
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Martin’s long wait ends with Indianapolis pole
INDIANAPOLIS — So excited for last year’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mark Martin predicted victory six weeks before the event.
His ability to forecast the future ultimately fell flat, as Martin finished 11th in a race that was ruined by a Goodyear debacle and dictated by the cautions NASCAR had to call every 10-to-12 laps to prevent dangerous tire failures.
Martin has a chance at redemption Sunday, when the 50-year-old racer will become the oldest driver in Indianapolis’ 100-year history to start from the pole. But he refused to make another Babe Ruth-style statement about his prospects.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” Martin said after posting a lap at 182.054 mph in Saturday’s qualifying.
“I prefer not to think about what possible result could be tomorrow,” he said. “I can tell you I think it’s gonna be a dogfight for this race. I really do. I’d like to be in the fray. That’s about as far as I’ll go thinking about it.”
Martin blew away Juan Pablo Montoya, winner of the 2000 Indianapolis 500, for the pole. Running a retro Target paint scheme that duplicates his Indy 500 car, Montoya qualified second with a lap at 180.803.
Montoya has always been good at Indy — he also raced on the track in Formula One — and many competitors have predicted he’ll contend for his first win of the season on Sunday. But he’s also clinging to a spot in the Chase for the championship, and Montoya has raced cautiously all season in an effort to earn one of the 12 berths.
He’d rather settle for a strong points showing than do something stupid in pursuit of a victory, and insisted that won’t change with a win on the line Sunday.
“I think here, the way the track is, I think overtaking is really hard,” he said. “So we’ll see. We’ll do what we can, pick our winning and losing. If we have a good stop, clean track ahead of us, we’ll go. If we’re in traffic, be smart about it, take our time.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled back from a brutal stomach virus to qualify third — his best effort since Lance McGrew took over as crew chief seven races ago.
Earnhardt was plagued with a high fever and vomiting when he arrived in Indianapolis, and he wanted Brad Keselowski on standby in case he needs a relief driver on Sunday. But rain delayed qualifying Saturday, and Keselowski ran out of time to get a required practice lap in Earnhardt’s car before he had to be at nearby O’Reilly Raceway Park to prepare for the Nationwide Series race.
“He’s not going to be able to come out here, so we’re going to have to man up and not have a backup plan. That’s all right,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll see how it goes. It was a 24-hour stomach bug. I guess I lost a bunch of fluids during that whole deal. I feel fine now. I just got to get fluids back in me.”
Bill Elliott, the 2002 winner at The Brickyard, qualified fourth and was followed by David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, two-time Indianapolis winner Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne. Reed Sorenson and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Sterling Marlin, Max Papis and Derrike Cope failed to qualify.
Martin, who has nine top-10 finishes in 15 previous starts at Indianapolis, has his eye on the coveted trophy. He was coaxed back into a full schedule this season by Rick Hendrick, who has given Martin an incredibly strong race team that’s capable of winning the Sprint Cup championship.
Martin heads into Sunday’s event with a series-best four victories this season — most recently the last race out, two weeks ago in Chicago — and four poles. Now he wants a win at the prestigious Brickyard.
“It would be a great accomplishment. It is really the number two crown jewel of stock car racing, I think,” Martin said. “But, like I’ve always said, you don’t get to choose where you win. If you’re lucky, you get to win.
“It would be a big win for my race team and it would be a big win for me, for my career, especially at this point in time.”
But he’ll have his hands full with Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, Martin’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart and Johnson have combined to win the last four races at Indy, and Sunday could be a showdown between the two NASCAR champions.
Johnson, the defending three-time champion, has struggled at Indianapolis and has a tendency to either win or wreck. Stewart, a two-time NASCAR champion, is an Indiana native who treasures the speedway and makes running well at home a priority.
“Man, I hope so,” said Johnson, who qualified 16th, of a potential two-man race.
“It would be a blast. I know coming to this track that Tony always finds more, and I know he’s giving 100 percent at every track, but he just seems to step it up a notch here each time we come,” Johnson said. “I know it’s going to be a great battle and I assume there’s going to be other cars in there, as well. It’s going to be a great race.”
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