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Martin takes Bristol pole

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Alan Gustafson gambled at Michigan and it cost driver Mark Martin dearly in his chances to make the Chase for the championship.

There was no chance, though, they'd change their strategy at Bristol Motor Speedway, even though Martin is clinging to a berth in the 12-driver field.

Gustafson went with an aggressive setup Friday that won Martin the pole, his fifth of the season.

'It feels like I'm carrying a 200-pound gorilla on my shoulders,' Martin said after turning a lap at 124.484 mph.

'I didn't need to choke today and we got a great lap. It's a real big battle, mostly because I want to make the (Chase) for my team. For me, I've had lots of brutal disappointments. I care for this team, that's why I want it so bad. They want it so bad, and they dig so hard.'

Martin and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team head into tonight's race with a precarious 12-point lead over Brian Vickers, the 13th driver in the standings. Despite a series-high four wins this season, they're in this position because of early season bad luck and a disastrous pit call last week.

Gustafson gambled and didn't bring Martin in for fuel, a gaffe that turned a certain top-10 finish into a 31st when the tank ran dry in the closing laps.

Gustafson said Friday he immediately regretted the decision, but learned a valuable lesson.

'It was a poor job of considering the big picture, and, knock on wood, I'll be better about that in the Chase,' he said.

SideBar: NASCAR

· What: Sharpie 500

· When: Today, 6:30 p.m.

· Where: Bristol Motor Speedway

· TV: ESPN