AVONDALE. Arizona—Mark Martin may not be the oldest driver to win a pole in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series - yet - but with his top qualifying effort Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, the seemingly ageless driver remained the second oldest driver to win a pole.
Martin, 54, was the only driver in time trials for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 to top 138 mph. Martin's lap at 138.074 mph, a record for the spring event at PIR, was good enough to edge Kasey Kahne (137.862 mph) for the top starting spot.
Jimmie Johnson was late to the grid after his car had issues on NASCAR's newest inspection process, the laser platform, but that didn't prevent the Daytona 500 winner from knocking out a lap at 137.804 mph to secure the third starting spot for Sunday's race.
Kyle Busch (137.673 mph) qualified fourth, followed by Jeff Gordon (137.164 mph). Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman will start from positions six through 10 in the second Cup race of the season.
The chassis Martin drove to the pole position was the same one that qualified fastest in the sprint race at Phoenix last year. Even with the new body style of the Gen-6 race car, his Camry was still fast.
"We did bring a different car here last fall," said Martin, who won his third pole at Phoenix. "We thought it was the cat daddy, and we didn't run as well as we might have, and so it didn't come back. I didn't know until we were standing out there qualifying, and he (crew chief Rodney Childers) mentioned that this was the car from the spring."
The pole was Martin's 56th, breaking a tie with Bill Elliott for seventh on the career list. Driving a 24-race Cup schedule, Martin won the Coors Light pole award four times last season, and Kahne looks to the No. 55 Toyota Camry as one of the top contenders every time Martin is on the track.
"I watch everybody qualify, and when he goes out, he's probably the guy, more than anyone else, that's probably going to beat me - or it's going to be close," Kahne said. "That's just the way it is with Mark right now. Last year it was the same way.
"He has a really good connection with Rodney, and the situation he's in, and they're fast when it comes to qualifying - every week."
After his car passed inspection, Johnson's crew pushed the No. 48 Chevrolet to the front of the grid in plenty of time to make the qualifying run.
"It's really different now, because the machine (laser platform) runs its course, and everybody stands around waiting, and the lasers do what they do, and you're either 'pass' or 'no,'" Johnson said. "We had a couple of 'No's' to start, and then it was right.
"It was something in the back of the car. That's what the guys were saying."
A week after leading the Daytona 500 field to green from the pole position, Danica Patrick will start 40th after a disappointing qualifying lap at 132.890 mph (27.090 seconds).
"It was just loose," Patrick said. "I just couldn't turn the car . . . We really tried to chase that. We knew that from last year being here, that it was going to get loose in qualifying, and in practice, at the end, we made a change, and the car was dancing all around on top of the track.
"We thought we fixed it for qualifying, but we had the same problem again. It's really disappointing. I know it's good to qualify further up on these short tracks to stay on the lead lap. We know we always get better in the race, and that's the strong part of the weekend usually for us, but to have a really great weekend all around, you've got to qualify better."