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Martin, Earnhardt on front row for Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2010) – Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned the top two spots during Saturday’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway and were joined in the top 10 by their teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, toured the 2.5-mile speedway in 47.074 seconds at roughly 191.188 mph to earn the pole position – his first for the Daytona 500. At 51 years old, Martin is the oldest driver to earn the first spot in the season-opening event.

“This is just a great accomplishment for this GoDaddy.com team, Alan Gustafson (crew chief) and all of the guys,” Martin said. “I want to thank Bob Parsons for stepping up to the plate here. It is pretty exciting to have them on board. It is all about the team. That was not accomplishment of mine, it is one of all of our guys on this team. To have Dale, Jr. on the outside of the front row, locked in, just means that we are doing stuff right.”

Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, turned in a time of 47.142 at roughly 190.193 mph to score the outside pole. This is the second time Earnhardt has earned a front-row starting spot in the Daytona 500. He started second in 2003.

“The guys have put together one hell of a race car, and I’m just proud to be able to drive it,” Earnhardt said. “I want to thank AMP Energy and the National Guard and all our sponsors. The team is doing an amazing job building such a great race car. The engine and the body is doing its job just perfectly and we’ve just got to get it up off the race track and that thing will be hard to beat.”

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, locked up the sixth spot, while Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet posted the 10th-fastest time.

From here, the drivers prepare for Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, which are two 60-lap qualifiers for next weekend’s Daytona 500.  Martin and Earnhardt are locked into the front row for the Great American race, and each gets the pole in a qualifying event. Martin will start from the top spot in the first Duel, while Earnhardt will start first in the second one.

The rest of the field in each race is set according to the 2009 owner points. Odd-numbered owner points positions start in the first race, while even-numbered owners compete in the second. The outcome of these events determines the remainder of the field for the Daytona 500, which means Johnson and Gordon have a chance to improve upon their Saturday qualifying efforts. Last year, Gordon won his Gatorade Duel to score the third starting spot.

Johnson and Gordon will participate in the first Gatorade Duel starting fourth and seventh, respectively.

Race coverage of Thursday’s Gatorade Duels will begin at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED.

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