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Atlanta qualifying: Earnhardt on pole, Martin and Gordon in top five

HAMPTON, Ga. (March 5, 2010)—Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet to score the pole position for Sunday’s KOBALT Tools 500. When the green flag drops for the 500.5-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he will be joined in the top five by teammates Mark Martin (fourth) and Jeff Gordon (fifth).

Earnhardt circled the 1.54-mile racetrack in record time for NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow, turning his lap in 28.761 seconds at roughly 192.761 mph. This is Earnhardt’s second pole at Atlanta and his second front row starting spot of the 2010 season – he started from the outside pole position at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February.

“The AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet was pretty good in practice,” Earnhardt said. “We just needed to get a little bit better. And we just needed to hit that perfect lap. There are a lot of cars out there that are fast and able to run good. You’ve just got to hit the marks and everything and the car was there. We knew that the time of day would be a little bit different. It’s really, really fast. You’ve just got to hang on. I think there are a lot of cars out there that can run that fast. You’ve just got to hang on to it.”

The last time Earnhardt started from the pole was Nov. 18, 2001. He led a race-high 171 laps and finished the event seventh.

Martin, driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, will line up fourth for Sunday’s race. This is his fourth straight top-10 starting spot and his third in the top five for the 2010 season.

“I’m happy with it,” Martin said after turning his qualifying lap. “We had some minor issues. We were quick in practice, but we had some issues that we really needed to address. And they did a good job of addressing those, we just missed it just a little bit on the whole package. And I missed the lap just a little bit. It was a good run.”

Gordon scored his second top-five starting position of the season and will roll off the grid fifth in his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet.

“I’m real proud of this team,” Gordon said. “That was a great lap. I know it’s not a qualifying lap, but what a huge pick-up. And I know the track’s getting a lot more grip in it but the car just drove both ends the same. I got a little bit loose off of (Turn) 2. It was a good lap. The guys worked so hard.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, will start the 325-lap event in 16th.

“Tomorrow we will look for comfort and make sure I can drive it for 500 miles,” Johnson said. “Speed really isn’t a big deal; it is just about being comfortable in the seat for the whole race on Sunday.”

The race is scheduled to begin Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.