Hendrick drivers lead Daytona field once again

         

JOHN RAOUX/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Rick Hendrick, left, talks with Mark Martin, who will be on the pole for today’s Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

The NASCAR scoring tower never seems to change. A Hendrick Motorsports sweep, 1-2-3.

That’s how NASCAR’s top team ended last season, and exactly how they opened the first practice of this year.

And when the flag waves on today’s season-opening Daytona 500, three Hendrick cars will lead the field in NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.

Mark Martin, the 51-year-old throwback, will start from the pole in an attempt to snap an 0-for-25 Daytona 500 streak. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the rock star suffering through a confidence-testing slump, shares the front row with his teammate.

Right behind them is Jimmie Johnson, the four-time defending Cup champion who has given no indication he’ll relax his run of NASCAR domination anytime soon.

So forgive the rest of the field if they’ve had just about enough of the Hendrick camp.

“I think about that sometimes. I think everybody probably does,” said Kasey Kahne, who wedged his Richard Petty Motorsports entry alongside Johnson in the second row to crash the Hendrick party.

“We got down here and the first practice it was 1-2-3-4 or something like that with the Hendrick cars. We’re always chasing them it seems like, but I feel like I’m in the best position I’ve been in in a while, as far as this race, to have a shot to race with those guys and actually beat some of them.”

A new year, but the goal remains the same across the garage: Figure out how to beat the Hendrick guys.

There’s no better stage, either, than Daytona International Speedway and the biggest race of the season. The 52nd running of the Great American Race comes at a critical time for NASCAR, which launched a series of rapid-fire changes designed to add some much-needed energy to a sport that had seemingly hit its plateau.

By JENNA FRYER – The Associated Press

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