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Mark Martin Takes Pole at Sears Point with Track Record


SONOMA, CA - Mark Martin hurled his #6 Valvoline Ford Thunderbird around Sears Point Raceway with a vengeance that paid off in a new track record and the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Save Mart Supermarkets 300.

Martin's lap around the complicated 2.52-mile road course took 97.751 seconds averaging out to a speed of 92.807 mph. The performance broke the old course record of 92.524 mph set by Terry Labonte on May 3, 1996.

Starting second is Rusty Wallace who broke the track record first with a lap completed in 98.041 seconds (92.533 mph). Rusty, behind the wheel of the same car he won with at Sears Point last year and named "Killer", drove an aggressive lap, smoking the tires as he negotiated the hairpin turn 7. Despite the tremendous effort, Wallace could do nothing but stand helplessly by as Martin knocked his Miller Lite Thunderbird to the outside front row starting position.

Jeff Gordon was fast enough at 92.471 mph to put his #24 DuPont Automotive Refinishes Chevrolet third on the starting grid. Hendrick Motorsports teammate and former track record holder Terry Labonte qualified fourth quickest in the #5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo at 92.433 mph (98.147 seconds). Rounding out the top five is Brett Bodine in the Close Call Phone Card Thunderbird.

Bobby Labonte had a rough ride on his qualifying lap. As he negotiated turn 8a and headed toward turn 9, the back end of his #18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac broke loose. The car spun and slammed hard into the tire barrier completely destroying the front end of the Grand Prix. Somehow Labonte was able to limp his car back to the garage area but the Joe Gibbs Racing Team immediately covered the battered machine and started to unload the back up car.

Three time series champion Darrell Waltrip's #17 Parts America Chevrolet had mechanical problems and he was unable to complete his lap.

Two Winston Cup regulars employed the services of drivers with more experience than themselves at Sears Point Raceway to increase their chances of making the field. Ken Pederson, a long-time instructor at Bob Bondurant's racing school when it was formerly located at the Sonoma, CA track, was behind the wheel of the #19 Child Support Recovery Ford in place of Gary Bradberry. His effort was 40th fastest of the 52 times recorded. Qualifying the #78 Hanes Ford in place of Billy Standridge was Bakersfield, CA native and 1994 NASCAR Winston West Series champion Mike Chase who could only manage a 48th quickest time.

Lance Hooper, last season's Winston West Series champion, is substituting this weekend for the injured Greg Sacks and just missed the first round cut with a time of 99.882 seconds (90.827 mph) and currently stands 27th.

The top twenty-five qualifiers have locked in their starting positions for Sunday's event. Second round qualifying is schedule for Saturday, May 3 at 10:00 am Pacific time.

Lori Vizza -- The Auto Channel