NASCAR: Hendrick drivers in front

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

Associated Press
TALLADEGA, Ala. ó For the first time since Dan Wheldonís fatal accident, the focus was back on the race track.
Hendrick Motorsports proved Saturday it has the best superspeedway program in NASCAR with a sweep of the front row in qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway.
Mark Martin won the pole with a lap of 181.367 mph, just a tick faster than the 181.360 posted by five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick Motorsports now has won the pole at all four superspeedway races this season, and swept the front row in all but one.
ěOur qualifying on (restrictor) plate tracks this season has just been amazing,î said Johnson.
A nasty accident last Saturday at Charlotte dropped Johnson from third to eighth in the Chase.
Clint Bowyer was followed in qualifying by Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.
Paul Menard qualified seventh and was followed by David Ragan, Sprint Cup Series points leader Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.
Because of the two-car tandem style of racing that has developed this season at Daytona and Talladega, the two fastest tracks require the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates. Tony Stewart has worked well this season with David Gilliland, but with the championship at stake, thatís one of the alliances thatís been dissolved.
Stewart, winner of the first two Chase races and only 24 points behind leader Edwards, canít get help again from Gilliland because Gilliland is a Ford driver with an allegiance to Edwards and Matt Kenseth, who is third in the standings.
ěIt is such a tight points battle right now and we are going to try to help the Ford guys out all we can,î Gilliland said. ěWe are going to go that route.î
Stewart, who will start 12th today, heard rumblings of the Ford pact when he got to the track.
ěWe thought we had a plan and then it was like it got dismantled,î he said.