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Bill Elliott

Bill Elliott

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Martin drives into Indy history* 50-year-old becomes race's oldest pole-sitter; Elliott, 53, in 4th spot.Comments July 26, 2009 By Steve T.

Gorches, Post-Tribune deputy sports editorSPEEDWAY -- A little more than 17 years ago to the day, Mark Martin was among nine drivers participating in the very first NASCAR testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.In fact, he was the first car out on the track back then at the age of 33.Now, the 50-year-old will be on the front row at today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard for the third time, though he's got the pole this time after qualifying second in 1996 and last year.

His best finish at the Brickyard was second in 1998.Not only did Martin's lap of 182.054 miles per hour provide a little personal history as his first pole in Indy and fourth of the season for the Hendrick Motorsports team member, but Martin also became the oldest driver to earn a pole at any race in the 100-year history of the speedway."I like making history.

That's cool," Martin said while displaying the smile he's shown often this season, one that has carried over to the rest of the team."(Friday) was a lot of fun for me.

We struggled through practice, but we made improvements and you should have seen the light in my guys' faces.

That's the most fun is to see their faces.

I love those guys and I'm a pretty tough unit.

I've been through some tough times, but I feel for those guys like my children."Martin won't be the only driver from those original nine who took part in that first NASCAR test in 1992 starting in today's top five.At 53 years old, Bill Elliott will start fourth, as he needed to qualify on speed or else go home.

He showed that his vast experience and success at the Brickyard -- he won in 2002, has four other top-five finishes and qualified in the top 10 for a record ninth time -- was enough to be better than 39 younger guys.But it turns out he used his most recent failure at Indy as incentive in qualifying."All that kept going through my head was here a year ago and how bad we screwed up qualifying," Elliott said.

"It hurt so bad missing this race a year ago.

I'm still kind of dumbfounded that we're where we're at, especially looking back as short as a year ago and even six or eight races ago."Elliott gives credit to his crew for making adjustments in limited action -- he doesn't run every race -- to help him qualify 10th in Charlotte in May, 15th in Michigan in June and eighth two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway.Qualifying in between the ageless ones was Juan Pablo Montoya in second and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

in third.

It's the second time in three starts at the Brickyard that Montoya will start on the outside of the front row.

He also qualified second in 2007, when he went on to finish second that year."We have a very good car and we need a good points race (today)," he said.

"We're ahead of the 5 (Martin) and 18 (Kyle Busch) in points and they have four and three wins and we don't have a top five.

That means we've been pretty consistent."It also means Montoya could use a win or two since they result in 10 bonus points each for the 12 drivers in the Chase.Earnhardt Jr.

can only hope he makes the Chase after posting his fifth top-10 start at the Brickyard and first of the season.

Barring a miracle run, he likely will be the only one of four Hendrick drivers not making the Chase, since he's sitting in 21st in points, 367 behind the pivotal 12th spot.But Junior was just glad to get in his No.

88 Chevrolet on Saturday after dealing with what he called a "24-hour stomach virus" that led to a contingency plan."I feel a lot better today ...

about 90 percent," he said.

"It was real frustrating (on Friday).

We didn't come in until Friday morning and I felt so terrible."We were going to have Brad (Keselowski) get in a few laps in practice today just in case I wasn't feeling better, but he's not able to come out here (from the Nationwide event at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont), so we're going to have to man up and not have a backup plan."Rounding out the top five is David Reutimann.

Besides Elliott, other past Brickyard champions in the field are two-time winners Tony Stewart (qualified seventh) and Jimmie Johnson (16th), Kevin Harvick (19th), four-time winner Jeff Gordon (22nd) and Bobby Labonte (31st).Contact Steve Gorches at 648-3141, [email protected] or visit his blog at blogs.post-trib.com/gorches

http://www.post-trib.com/sports/1685195,car-quals-0726.article
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