BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) – A week away from the racetrack gave Mark Martin the break he needed from his disastrous start to the season.

It certainly didn’t slow him down.

Martin won his second straight pole Friday with a lap of 125.773 mph around Bristol Motor Speedway, giving him the top starting spot in consecutive races for the first time in 20 years.

Two weeks ago in Atlanta, the 50-year-old Martin became the second oldest driver in NASCAR history to win the pole. That pole had been Martin’s first since May 5, 2001, at Richmond.

“It’s the (No.) 5 car,” Martin said in giving all the credit to his Hendrick Motorsports crew. “We have learned so much through each individual event that man, I feel good. We unloaded here rolling.”

It’s the lift Martin and his team need after falling far short of their early season goals. His motor blew up at California and Las Vegas, leading to consecutive 40th-place finishes, and then he cut a tire at Atlanta while running fourth. That caused him to finish 31st and he heads into Sunday’s race 34th in the Sprint Cup Series standings.

“As soon as we have one good run, one good finish, we’re going to start feeling better,” he said. “We’ve been a little bit nauseous.”

Ryan Newman, who qualified second, can relate to that feeling.

He’s also had a rough start to his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing – his best finish so far was 22nd at Atlanta – and he’s 32nd in the standings. But he unloaded quick, was second fastest in practice, and posted a lap at 125.740 to just miss knocking Martin from the pole.

Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was third with a lap at 125.453. Bristol is one of just six tracks where Johnson has yet to visit Victory Lane, and his 17.4 average finish is only better than his marks at Indianapolis (where he’s a two-time winner but has three DNFs), Infineon and Richmond.

Greg Biffle qualified fourth and Kasey Kahne was fifth. He was followed by David Reutimann, Reed Sorenson and Dave Blaney. Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 10.

With only 45 cars entered, only Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs failed to qualify.

– the same two who started the season with such optimism after racing their way into the Daytona 500.

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