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Mark Martin, back full-time this year, wins the Atlanta 500 pole, his first NASCAR pole in eight years


Mark Martin ends one long dry spell, winning the pole for Sunday's Atlanta 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

Goodyear did such a great job with its new tires at Las Vegas, and the tire maker has had such an aggressive testing program, in the wake of last year's numerous complaints, that NASCAR teams arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway optimistic that Greg Biffle and the men who handled the tire test here had helped Goodyear come up with another super tire for Sunday's 500.
   However drivers Friday were rudely surprised.
   Chevy's Mark Martin, Dodge's Kurt Busch and Ford's Jamie McMurray went 1-2-3 in qualifying, and all said their cars were scary loose.
   Martin (187.0445 mph, 29.640 seconds) and Busch (186.365 mph, 29.748 seconds) will thus have the front row for the 2 p.m. start.
   "I feel like a rookie," Martin said. "Not only did the lap scare me…there was no way I could keep the car off the fourth turn wall.
   "But I live to scare myself like that….just like back in the early 90s, when I used to win poles."
   For Martin, who won the outside pole six times last year, with another team, this was his first number one starting spot since 2001.
   And Martin was once one of NASCAR's top qualifiers, winning 42 poles now over his career.
   "It's very treacherous right now," Martin said of the situation here at the moment. "Our challenge now is to find something we can race.
   "It's going to be challenging.
   "You're not going to make the car comfortable…unless you're only running 90 percent."
  "The tires fall off so much from the first lap to the second lap to the third lap…and by the 10th lap you just want to pull in the pits and cry 'Uncle!'" Busch said.
   There were 47 cars making qualifying runs, the slowest being long-retired Geoff Bodine (178.735 mph).
   The four men not making the field are Bodine, Jeremy Mayfield, Scott Riggs and Todd Bodine.
   "These tires make the car drive really weird," McMurray said. "I don't know if it's the tire, but when we unloaded in practice I thought we were two or three seconds off the pace…and we were like fifth-quick.
   "The cars just drive really odd. They're really free getting into the corner…and then once the car gets loaded up (ready to turn), it seems like it gets real tight.
   "It will be an interesting race Sunday."
   Engines are again questionable, because of RPM. "We turned 9300 RPM at Fontana (for the California 500), and then we turn 9800 at Las Vegas the next week – the entire run," McMurray said. "All of the issues we had were because our engines are built to run 9600, and when you run them 9800 for 400 miles, parts are going to break.
   "But I don't think we're going to see a problem here."

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