As Mark Martin prepared to take the final run Thursday morning in first-round time trials for the Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he couldn't understand why the other drivers weren't faster than they had been in practice Wednesday.
The day had dawned bright and clear. The surface of the track was clean. Conditions seemed perfect. ``Before I got in the car, I was pretty nervous about it, trying to figure out what was going on,' he said. ``So I finally just decided not to worry about it.'With that attitude, Martin went out and blistered this 1.5-mile speedway, breaking the track record and easily winning the pole position for Sunday's race with a speed of 176.499 miles per hour.
Martin was nearly one mile per hour quicker than Davey Allison, who had clocked a lap at 175.513 mph more than an hour earlier.
Thirty-five other cars had followed Allison, who was fifth off the line, and all had failed to beat his speed. Martin was the 36th - and last - driver to try.
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``You are a qualifying son of a gun, a real qualifying son of a gun,' Allison told Martin after the run.
``Breaks your heart, don't it, bud,' Martin replied.
Alan Kulwicki was third fastest at 175.041 mph.
These three Ford drivers have dominated qualifying in 1991. Martin's pole was his fifth this year, more than anyone else. Kulwicki has four poles and Allison three.
Ernie Irvan was fourth fastest in a Chevrolet at 174.831 mph, but his run became meaningless after he wrecked his car in post-qualifying practice. Irvan's Chevrolet was too badly damaged to fix, so he will have to start from the rear of the field in a backup car when the race begins at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Also in the top 10 were Ken Schrader (174.616 mph), Geoff Bodine (174.300 mph), Kyle Petty (174.284 mph), Rusty Wallace (174.059 mph), Bill Elliott (173.740 mph) and Ricky Rudd (173.438 mph).
Dale Earnhardt was 15th fastest, while Harry Gant slipped to 17th after winning the pole last weekend at North Wilkesboro. Gant didn't even have the fastest Oldsmobile. Bobby Hamilton did. He qualified 14th.
Martin's speed broke the three-year-old track record of 175.896 mph, set by Kulwicki in October, 1988.
``I knew we were going to have to run hard,' Martin said, ``but I didn't understand why the other cars weren't a good bit faster than they were yesterday. I expected the track to be faster, but all I saw was the same speeds' from the other drivers.
``When I left pit road and went up to turn one (on the warm-up lap), the track just looked beautiful to me,' Martin said. ``The track was so clean, I thought to myself, 'There's no way this track could possibly be slick.' I got pumped up as I could possibly be and just tore up that turn one and two in the qualifying lap.'
After making it through those turns, Martin knew he had the pole as long as he didn't make any mistakes.
For nearly a half-dozen other drivers, mistakes were the order of the day. Wrecked cars were the result.
Irvan was the biggest name to hit the wall. ``We were going pretty fast, but we just got loose and lost it' in turn three, Irvan said. The damage could have been fixed with a superhuman effort, he said, ``but we've decided to go to a backup. We'll go to the rear of the field and we'll just have to work our way to the front.'
Larry Pearson lost control while attempting to qualify in the morning and hit the wall in turns one and two. His crew patched up the damage and he went out for another try in the afternoon session. This time, something broke and he hit the wall in turn four. Pearson failed to make the field.
Brad Teague made the field on his first qualifying lap, then crashed on the second. Ted Musgrave also crashed in the morning time trials, but made the field Thursday afternoon. Wally Dallenbach Jr., driving Junie Donlavey's Ford, crashed during the afternoon time trials, but was added to the field as a provisional starter.
And sports car star Dorsey Schroeder, called in to drive Cale Yarborough's Pontiac, crashed in practice Wednesday but was able to qualify 36th in a backup car Thursday.
Both the first and second rounds of qualifying were held Thursday, with the first round starting at 8:30 a.m., having been postponed by rain Wednesday.
Every driver had the opportunity to take the faster of two qualifying laps, but most of them, including Martin and Allison, only took one. The tire wear after one lap makes it almost impossible to do better in a second lap, Martin said.
Meanwhile, Ward Burton won the pole for Saturday's All Pro 300 for Grand National cars with a speed of 172.574 mph. Morgan Shepherd was second fastest at 171.119 mph.
A large field of 55 cars contended for 32 starting spots, and many strong contenders failed to make it, including Harry Gant, who won the Grand National races in Darlington and Richmond last month. Others who came up short included Davey Allison, Terry Labonte, Jimmy Spencer, Dick Trickle, Tommy Ellis, Jeff Burton, Tom Peck, Dave Rezendes, Butch Miller, Jack Ingram and Elton Sawyer.