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Martin, Earnhardt and Gordon qualify in top nine at Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Mark Martin scored the fifth starting spot during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet was joined in the top 19 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (eighth), Jeff Gordon (ninth) and Jimmie Johnson (19th).

Martin has started fifth twice before in his career and averages a 2.5 finish from that position. Most recently, he finished fourth from that spot in 1998. In 1990, he went to Victory Lane after leading 72 laps. Martin is the most recent Hendrick Motorsports winner at the two-mile oval, reaching Victory Lane in June 2009, and he has a career-best five victories, 17 top-five finishes and 30 top-10s in 51 Cup starts there.

Earnhardt will start Sunday’s race eighth. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet has three top-five finishes and nine top-10s this season. His most recent Cup victory happened at Michigan in June 2008, and in
24 Cup starts at the two-mile oval, he has one win, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s.

“Hopefully, we’ll be fortunate and have a good weekend,” said Earnhardt, who is ranked ninth in the driver standings. “We thought our setup was pretty good the last time we raced here.  We were really, really, really fast on the first two or three laps of a run and we weren’t that good after 10 laps. 

“We’re going to pay a little more attention and push ourselves to excel a little bit better on the long runs this weekend.”

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, will line up ninth on Sunday. He has two wins, seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10s this season and is ranked seventh in the driver standings. In 37 Cup events at Michigan, Gordon has two wins, 19 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s.

“This track means a lot to me.  I know if means a lot to the manufacturers and I feel like we really did not get the most out of our team and our car the last time we were here and I feel like since then we’ve really picked up our program as a team.  The cars—how competitive they are and so I think this is hopefully the beginning of a fun weekend for us.”

Johnson will roll off the grid 19th in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. He sits third in the championship standings on the strength of one win, eight top-five finishes and 14 top-10s during the 2011 campaign. In 19 Cup events at Michigan, Johnson has two top-five finishes and seven top-10s.

“This track has been tough on me from a finish perspective,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a lot of good runs. I’ve led a lot of laps. As we all know, I’ve run out of gas a handful of times with the checkered flag in sight. So hopefully, it is not a fuel-mileage race, and hopefully we have the speed to race for the win.”

Race coverage begins Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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