Truex Jr., Martin on front row for Daytona 500
The first time Chip Ganassi called Martin Truex Jr., Ganassi's newest driver blew him off.
"The old unknown number," Truex said with a laugh. "You're like 'I'm not going to get that because you never know who it's going to be.'"
The lines of communication have gotten considerably better over the last few months.
The owner of Chip Ganassi Racing checks in with Truex a couple of times a week, pestering him with the kind of questions Truex never got while working for decidedly hands-off Teresa Earnhardt at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"He's always wanting to know what's going on, what I know and what I want to know," Truex said. "So it's different for me. I've never really had that."
Expect Truex to be on Ganassi's speed dial this week after the 29-year-old driver ended a winter of uncertainty by putting the merged teams of DEI and Chip Ganassi Racing on the pole for the biggest race of the year.
Truex's Chevrolet edged Mark Martin and grabbed the top spot for the season-opening Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 188.001 mph on Sunday, giving his crew a much-needed boost after an offseason spent wondering just how the marriage of convenience between the former rivals would work.
"This is just one lap so we don't want to get too carried away here, but I'm proud of the effort and the preparation they put into this car," Truex said after picking up his second career pole. "To be able to bring it down here and be faster off the truck and back it up means a lot for the guys."
Guys who are still getting to know each other following a winter of attrition. The merger resulted in roughly 150 layoffs and forced Truex's crew to change garages for the second straight year.
"Bringing two companies together is a difficult task and was a painful thing for a lot of people on all sides of it," Ganassi said. "My hat's off to these guys because there was a core group of people that never wavered, never lost focus on what they wanted to do."
Namely, build fast race cars -- something the revamped team had in ready supply on Sunday.
Truex's new teammates -- Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola -- were nearly as quick over the 2.5-mile tri-oval, with Montoya running fourth and Almirola running seventh. Truex and Almirola were in old DEI cars, while Montoya will race in one of Ganassi's rides.
Truex will see a familiar face alongside him when the field heads for the green flag next Sunday in former DEI teammate Martin.
The 50-year-old veteran captured the outside pole with a qualifying run of 187.817 for Hendrick Motorsports, which offered Martin a full-time ride this season after the he spent the last two years running part-time for DEI.
Martin has never won the 500 in 24 previous attempts, including a near miss in 2007 when Kevin Harvick barely beat him to the finish line. But Martin's car looked ready after beating teammates Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Jeff Gordon (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th) during the two-lap time trial.
"It's an amazing feeling," Martin said. "I feel so grateful to Rick Hendrick, because that's where it all starts. What an incredible person he is for giving me this opportunity. I just can't wait to drive it. I wish we were starting (the race) in five minutes. Just give me enough time to get strapped in, and I'd like to start the 500."
He'll have to wait a week, though he and Truex can breathe easy knowing their starting spots are locked in. The remainder of the field will be filled following a pair of 150-mile races on Thursday.
The top 35 drivers from last season are ensured a spot in the 500, and they'll be joined by two-time series winner Tony Stewart, two-time 500 winner Bill Elliott and Travis Kvapil, who earned their way in by posting the fastest times among drivers outside of the top 35.
Terry Labonte will also be on the starting grid as the only past champion not to make the field on speed.
Elliott, long one of the series' most popular drivers, was a sentimental favorite to capture the poll in the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing after posting the fastest time in practice on Saturday. One of NASCAR's oldest teams missed the 500 for just the third time since 1962 last year and has already announced a limited 12-race schedule this season due to financial woes.
Elliott didn't grab the pole but made sure he'll stick around for the 500 by running fifth. He shook off an apology from crew chief David Hyder after he missed out on the front row, telling Hyder getting into the field was the most important thing.
"I'm disappointed we didn't get the pole, but then again, we've got to do what we've got to do because we're out of the Top 35 in points," Elliott said. "Whether we left anything on the table I can't say, but we gave it our best effort."
Stewart posted the 10th-fastest time in his new Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, then watched the final rounds of qualifying with crew members to make sure it was enough to get him in the field.
"We had three awesome days in a row," said Stewart, who left Joe Gibbs Racing after a 10-year run last fall. "I hope it stays this way. I hope it's not just something that's a dream going by right now."
Ryan Newman, his teammate, posted the third-fastest speed of the session, but was already locked into the field based on last season's points.