Experience faced offÃ‚Â vs. youth and experience won out.Ã‚Â Mark Martin, the 4th oldest driver in the field working on his 53rd start at Daytona certainly has experience.Ã‚Â Not like Martin hasn’t been here before, it is his third career pole at Daytona.Ã‚Â He has 50 career poles and puts him in eights most poles of all time in Cup Racing history.Ã‚Â Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, held the position for most of qualifying with an average speed run of 182.002 mph.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â But as qualifying drew to a close the 40th driver out to test for speed was Mark Martin, who bettered Bayne’s lap with an average speed of 182.065 mph making him the oldest driver to ever score a pole at the track.Ã‚Â Martin is 52 and 0 for wins at Daytona, so as he starts his 53rd race at this track does he feels that he is due or that the track owes him one?
”You know what? I’m pretty darn lucky to have gotten to race at Daytona, period, much less 53 times,” Martin said. ”I’ve survived some really hard crashes here and I’ve had some good times here. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.
”The place doesn’t owe me a thing. Matter of fact, I owe the place and the sport a great deal for just letting me be a part of it.”
”I’ve had the pleasure of driving a lot of fast race cars and working with a lot of great teams and people through the years and I’m really grateful for that,” Martin said. ”This is really special because I know how much work goes into the four restrictor plate races each year by Hendrick Motorsports. It’s really pretty cool to be a part of that team.”
”I really didn’t expect to get the pole. When I ran, it could have been first or 21st.”
Bayne however is at the opposite end of his career.Ã‚Â He is the only driver entering this race that is undefeated at this level and at this track.Ã‚Â He won the Daytona 500 in spectacular fashion, and on his career first start here, at the cup level.Ã‚Â He is young, fresh faced and eager, but knows he still has a lot to learn from the talent he is surrounded by.Ã‚Â But his season was paused when he was hospitalized for a week in May and treated for what doctors at the Mayo Clinic called an inflammatory condition but Bayne believes was Lyme disease. He originally thought he had been bitten on his arm by a spider a few weeks before symptoms that included double vision landed him in the hospital.Ã‚Â This had the unfortunate effect of eliminating his chances at a points victory in the Nationwide series with the amount of races he missed, however another win would certainly go a long way in soothing that pain.
Still, even having won here already at the Daytona 500, a feat that only 34 other drivers in NASCAR history have done before him, entering the track must have felt surreal.
”Coming into the tunnel, it didn’t sink in that I was coming back to Daytona,” he said. ”The next day, when I got on the track in the Nationwide car, as soon as I pulled onto the track, I realized that my last lap here was a victory lap. So as soon as you’re making that first lap you’re kind of going through the motions again and kind of feeling how you felt the last time.
”That was the biggest eye-opener and kind of cold-chill moment for me.Ã‚Â We didn’t do any drafting runs in practice,” Bayne said. “We did two mock [qualifying] runs, because we had to make it on time, and people pulled out in front of us on those runs, so we really didn’t get any practice at all.”
The rest of the top 5 are drivers who have also had recent success here and always seem to run well.Ã‚Â Clint Bowyer always seems to do well here, even if he finishes upside down and on fire as he did in the 2007 Daytona 500, and still managed a 9th place finish.Ã‚Â Jeff Gordon has won here before and definitely knows his way around this race track.Ã‚Â David Ragan’s last time here was mired with disappointment when he lost his shot to win the 500 after NASCAR penalized him for passing too early on a late restart, qualified fifth in a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.
The rest of the top 10 are also no strangers to running out front here.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is marking the 10-year anniversary of his emotional 2001 win here, qualified sixth for Hendrick Motorsports.
Andy Lally, a sports car veteran who led TRG Motorsports to a two-lap victory in the Grand Touring class here in January in the prestigious Rolex 24, qualified a career-best seventh.
”Daytona is hands-down my most special place as far as a race track goes,” Lally said. ”Having come here with the desire as a young kid to not only race in the Daytona 500, but then as my sports car career advanced, racing and winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, this has become the mecca for me.”
Starting in eighth is old 5 Time himself, Jimmie Johnson who won here in 2006 at the Daytona 500, which puts him in a great position to help out his teammate Dale Jr., who pushed him across the line for his only win this season at Talladega.
AJ Allmendinger was ninth in a Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10 for RCR.