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Can Mark Martin and Ryan Newman break this run of bad luck?


Jeff Gordon (L) and teammate Mark Martin are both comfortable with the way Sunday's Bristol 500 is shaping up (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Okay, so are we looking for a Busch-versus-Busch Sunday 500 here, or a Jeff Gordon breakthrough, or a Tony Stewart romp….or something really unusual – Maybe a win by Jimmie Johnson, who has seldom even done well here. Or what about a Mark Martin versus Ryan Newman finish?
    Martin and Newman made it an all-Chevy front row for the 2 p.m. Sunday start, and Johnson will be right behind them.
    But both Martin and Newman are struggling to break out of a horrendous start to 2009, and Johnson hasn't been all that spiffy so far either.
    Martin and Newman both were once known as ace NASCAR qualifiers, but that's been a while.
    And as odd a season as it's been so far, it's hard to figure out just what to make of Friday's qualifying at Jeff Byrd's smooth and wide concrete half-mile – a track formerly renowned for bump-and-grind racing, but since repaved known for its side-by-side action.
   Drivers love the new layout…but fans, well, the sign out front has been 'boasting' good seats still available. That's stunning, considering this place has had so many sellouts that it's been billed as 'the toughest ticket in racing.'
    Gordon hasn't won a regular season Sprint Cup tour event since October 2007, but he's suddenly hot this year. He'll start 10th.
    Ford's Greg Biffle, who runs well here, qualified strong, despite right-side pain from bruised ribs, an injury Tuesday when he slipped getting off a boat onto a wet dock.
   Martin opened the season from the front row at Daytona, and with many in the sport banking on his having a really good year, now with Rick Hendrick, now running the full tour again, and now paired with underrated crew chief Alan Gustafson.
   But so far things haven't panned out.
   However Martin, once known for his pessimism, continues to be optimistic about the year ahead, which after all is only a month or so old.
   "They're hitting the track with great, great set-ups," Martin says.
   "But it's no secret we have not had the best of luck this year.
   "So it's really nice to come back this week and display speed once again.
    "We've got speed -- and the other part is going to turn around sooner or later.
   "We're figuring it all out. And every race is not going to be our best race; but we have definitely made progress.
   "Alan and I were not very pleased with the way we ran in California -- we should have been a 10th-place car. But that's the worse we've been all year.
    "As soon as we have one good finish, we're going to start feeling better….but we've been a little nauseous.
   "We don't have to turn other things around: Our stuff is rolling, this is a great race team, and eventually it'll come around.
   "We're going to keep pounding."


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