After failing to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup pole for eight years, Mark Martin now has three in one season, despite being the ninth driver to make a qualifying attempt at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Friday.

The Hendrick Motorsport driver posted a time of 26.903secs that stood up against the drivers that followed him on a surface that cooled throughout the afternoon -- but not as much as Martin expected. Accordingly, the veteran will start from top spot in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500.

"I was really pleased with the racecar," said Martin, who had won his last pole in May 2001 at Richmond, before qualifying first at Bristol in March and then again in Atlanta, "I felt like our early draw was really going to hurt. I thought that it was really going to cool off a lot. I was wrong about that.

"I don't think the track really picked up much, but I think a bunch of guys had the potential to beat us - they messed their laps up. My first lap was very spot-on. It wasn't one like Atlanta or even Bristol - I think those were pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat kind of things - but this is a good solid racecar, and I drove a solid lap."

With an uncharacteristically strong performance at Phoenix, Kyle Busch claimed the second starting spot, followed by brother Kurt and series leader Jeff Gordon, while Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, Regan Smith and Jimmie Johnson will all start from positions in the top ten.

Busch was pleased with his car from the moment it hit the racetrack.

"It was a decent run for us," said Busch, who has one pole to his credit at Phoenix, from 2006, but has an average starting position of 16.8 in eight races there, "The M&M's Camry was good when we unloaded here, and felt pretty good off the truck. We made some minor changes to it, and made some minor gains, but nothing really too huge.

"The set-up that we brought here this weekend is different from what we've run here in the past and from what we've run on flat tracks in general. I feel good about it... Everybody's just so close. This thing's so tight - the field, these cars - so we'll see how the race plays out."

Even though he's starting on the pole, Martin knows he'll face formidable competition from Johnson, who has won the last three Cup races at Phoenix.

"When we beat Jimmie Johnson to win a race, I'm going to feel like I beat Superman," he admitted.

Todd Bodine, Jeremy Mayfield, Dexter Bean, Brandon Ash and Trevor Boys all failed to qualify for Sunday's race.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service


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