TALLADEGA, Ala. — Despite rule changes by NASCAR intended to break up the two-car tandems, Mark Martin will start from the pole alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson Sunday at Talladega. Martin will be in Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, which is expected to remain a team effort.
Some of those partnerships, though, might be jumbled.
He won the pole position Saturday with a 181.367-mph lap on the 2.66-mile oval, completing Hendrick Motorsports’ sweep of pole positions in all four restrictor-plate races this season.
The driver’s No. 5 Chevrolet will be paired Sunday with the No. 24 of teammate Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be forming another Hendrick duo.
But the order of the Johnson-Earnhardt train figures to receive heavy scrutiny. Earnhardt pushed Johnson to victory at Talladega in April, and after the five-time defending series champion took the checkered flag, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, radioed, “Dale, thank you, man. That was awesome. … Dale, next one’s on us, brother.”
Martin Wins Pole NASCAR Talladega As Johnson and Earnhardt Return Favors
Johnson attempted to return the favor by pushing Earnhardt in the July race at Daytona International Speedway, but the pair was separated late in the race. He isn’t certain if Sunday will bring an opportunity to help Earnhardt (who has five wins at Talladega) end a 27-race winless streak in restrictor-plate race.
“Believe me, the Junior Nation has not forgotten that statement that Chad made,” Johnson said, smiling. ” and we have made as a group a huge effort at Daytona to get it to work but with his car up front, we did not have the luck that we needed. We noticed that in the April race here, that for whatever reason, we were better off with (Johnson) leading and (Earnhardt) pushing.
“We worked yesterday on both combinations and we will just have to see how things unfold in the race, and where we feel that we are the fastest. If we cannot win the race we certainly want him to and will try to. Of course both of us want to win, and we will do all that we can, but they take a picture of the finish, and you just want to make sure you are in the picture. If you are in the picture, you have a shot at it.”
Though NASCAR tweaked some rules that increased horsepower and made it more difficult to keep engines cooler (and thus risking overheating if cars tried to stay hooked together for too many laps), Friday’s Cup practices indicated the two-car tandems likely will remain prevalent and almost certainly will decide the outcome in Sunday’s race.
The team believes it’s the best strategy for avoiding the loss of both cars in a multicar pileups that are infamous at Talladega.
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