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Hendrick on front row, in top six at Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson swept the front row during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Talladega Superspeedway. This is the third time this season that Hendrick Motorsports has scored the first and second starting spots at a superspeedway event and the fourth straight superspeedway pole for the organization in the 2011 campaign.

Martin toured the 2.66-mile superspeedway in 52.799 seconds at roughly 181.367 mph. Johnson traveled the circuit at roughly 181.360 mph in 52.801 seconds to score the outside pole position. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top six with Jeff Gordon in fifth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in sixth. Earlier this year at Talladega, Hendrick teammates lined up inside the top four to give the organization an average starting position of third of at the biggest track in the elite series.

After Sunday, a Hendrick Motorsports driver will have started from the pole position in all four superspeedway races this season. At Daytona, Earnhardt started from the pole alongside Gordon. Gordon earned the pole at Talladega in April and led the field to green with Johnson on the outside pole. Most recently, Martin led the field to green at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in July.

In 55 events (174 starts) at Talladega, Hendrick Motorsports has 11 wins, 45 top-five finishes and 67 top-10s. Most recently, Earnhardt pushed Jimmie Johnson to Victory Lane in the April 2011 race. Johnson matched the closest margin of victory recorded—.002 seconds – since the use of electronic scoring.

Sunday’s race will be televised on ESPN and is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
Qualified: First.
At Talladega: Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, is a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. In April 1995, he started third and edged current teammate Jeff Gordon for the win. Two years later, Martin started 18th and beat Dale Earnhardt across the line. Martin also has 11 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s at the 2.66-mile track. Crew chief Lance McGrew has chosen Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-632 for Sunday’s race at Talladega. This is the same chassis Martin has driven in all three of the restrictor-plate events held so far this season, earning two top-10 finishes – eighth, most recently, at Talladega and 10th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Most recently: In April, Martin qualified third for the Sprint Cup race at Talladega. He partnered with Gordon, pushing him to a third-place finish. Martin crossed the line eighth.
Superspeedway notes: Martin has made 100 total career superspeedway starts in Sprint Cup competition at Talladega and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedways. The veteran driver has earned a combined two wins—both at Talladega—20 top-five finishes and 42 top-10s. He has completed 16,103 laps between the two tracks and has led 597 of those.
Martin says: “I know NASCAR made some rule changes for this race, and I’m anxious to see how it affects the way we’ve been racing on these restrictor-plate tracks this year. I’m a big fan of the two-by-two racing. I like it a lot better than those huge packs that we used to race in. There’s a whole new element to this style—working specifically with another driver and having a plan in place—than what we did in the big packs. It’s intense. That may go away a little with this new package, but we’ll have to see after we get on the track and get some practice laps in.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: Fifth.
At Talladega: Along with his six victories, Gordon has two poles (including one earlier this year to extend his streak to 19 consecutive years with a pole in NASCAR’s top series), 14 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 37 starts at the Alabama track.
Chase report: Gordon ranks 11th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He trails the leader by 66 points.
Gordon says: “When I first started racing here, we were racing single file and you had to work lap-after-lap-after-lap for just one position. If you didn’t complete the pass, you could be shuffled out and lose 20 or 30 spots.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 myLowes Chevrolet
Qualified: Second.
At Talladega: Johnson, who won at Talladega in April, will drive the No. 48 myLowes paint scheme this weekend. myLowes is an integrated online tool on Lowes.com that helps keep track of everything in your home. Johnson has made 19 Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega Superspeedway, where he has two wins, five top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Johnson has completed 96.3 percent of competition laps at the 2.66-mile track and has led 217 total. He has an average start and finish of 9.8 and 16.4.
Chase report: Johnson, the five-time defending Cup champion ranks eighth in this year’s Chase. He is 35 points behind of the leader.
Johnson says: “We need points based on the way we finished up in Charlotte (N.C.). We overcame a lot through the night in Charlotte with track position issues and was getting into a respectful finish there and I had that huge impact off of Turn 2 so it was a sore week trying to get through the bumps and bruises at the beginning of the week. Things feel great now and we’ve just got to go racing. There’s still five races left in this Chase. A lot still can happen and I know what my team and myself is capable of and we’re going to go out there and work for every point we can get.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Paint the 88/National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: Sixth.
At Talladega: In 23 Cup starts at Talladega, Earnhardt has recorded five wins, nine top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He scored a record-setting four consecutive wins at the 2.66-mile superspeedway from October 2001 to April 2003. Earnhardt’s five wins at Talladega are the most for him at any track and rank him third all-time among drivers at the Alabama oval. Earnhardt’s father Dale Earnhardt Sr. earned 10 wins at the track, while Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon has recorded six.
Chase report: Earnhardt currently holds the ninth position in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after finishing 19th last Saturday at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Earnhardt trails leader Carl Edwards by 60 points.
Earnhardt says: “This track has a lot of history and I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish here. I like the mystique the place has, a lot of great and interesting things that have happened here. It is always fun to come to this place; it is just such a different track than we what we normally race on. It is really big and a lot different style of racing; it is a nice change of pace from all the mile-and-a-half stuff we do.”

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