AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Mark Martin will be on the pole at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year after becoming the second-oldest pole-sitter in NASCAR history.
Martin went around PIR’s mile oval at a speed of 138.075 mph on Friday to earn his 56th career pole a week after finishing third in the Daytona 500.
Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him a few months short of beating Harry Gant as the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole. Gant was 54 when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.
Kasey Kahne will start on the front row with Martin for Sunday’s 312-mile race. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in third next to Kyle Busch.
Martin started on the pole at PIR last year before finishing ninth and won from the pole in 2009. He had a solid Daytona 500 last Sunday, starting 14th and working his way to the front to make a big move on the final lap to finish behind Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Martin hasn’t won since Loudon in 2009.
Kahne had a disappointing Daytona 500, collected in the race’s first wreck on his way to finishing 36th after starting sixth. He’s had some success at Phoenix, though, winning the fall race in 2011 and put together a good qualifying run early in the session.
Johnson had a whirlwind tour after winning his second Daytona 500 last Sunday, hitting eight states and David Letterman’s guest chair — along with announcing a new deal with primary sponsor Lowe’s — in the four days before arriving at PIR.
The five-time Sprint Cup champion didn’t have a chance to debrief with his team and arrived in the desert exhausted. He won’t get much of a break here, either, with Sprint Cup practice and qualifying on Friday, his second career Nationwide Series race on Saturday and Sunday’s race.
Johnson cut it close on qualifying, walking back from pit road to the garage to his car, which had to go through part of the pre-qualifying inspection before being allowed out. It arrived on pit road three cars before Johnson’s turn and had a strong second lap to earn a spot on the second row.
Danica Patrick struggled with her car in practice and didn’t get it fixed for qualifying, bobbling around turns 3 and 4. She will start 40th after becoming the first woman win the pole and lead green-flag laps in a Sprint Cup race last week at the Daytona 500.