Mark Martin pulled out a lap of 26.313s (136.814mph) to claim his 52nd pole position of his 31-year Sprint Cup career comprising a formidable 832 races at the top level of US stock cars. So much for the plan to retire in 2005, then.
"I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than the guys that are 20 years younger than me," said Martin. "I'm willing to do that to be able to continue to compete. But make no mistake: Michael Waltrip Racing and [crew chief] Rodney Childers have good stuff."
Martin is only running a part-time season in 2012, and earlier in the day it was announced that Elliott Sadler would be splitting the driving of the ten remaining oval races in the #55 with car owner Michael Waltrip; the races at Infineon and Watkins Glen will be driven by a road specialist still to be confirmed.
Martin had pushed Regan Smith off the top spot at Phoenix with his fast run, and Smith was subsequently demoted to third place on the grid when the last car to make its qualifying run, the #14 of reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart, managed to pip him by a little over two hundredths of a second to join Martin on the front row.
Joining Smith on the second row is Jimmie Johnson, shrugging off the controversy
of the #48's penalty for a regulations infringement at Daytona. Juan Montoya bounced back from his own fiery exit
from the Daytona 500 on Monday evening with a lap of 26.559s (135.583mph) to start from immediately behind them in fifth place.
Rookie of the Year contender Timmy Hill in the #37 car was the only driver to fail to make the 43-car starting grid for Sunday afternoon's Subway Fresh Fit 500. Mike Bliss spun during his qualifying run, but made the field after a deal which gave him the 2011 car owners points from the now-defunct #6 Roush Fenway car.
Martin's pole confirmed the impressive performance of MWR, after Martin's team mates Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer topped the times for Friday practice with laps of 25.810s (139.481 mph) and 25.857s (139.227 mph) respectively in the second session. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth hit the wall early on in the session and was forced to his backup car.
In the earlier practice session, Ryan Newman, Brendan Gaughan and Michael McDowell all also managed to find the wall.
Full Cup qualifying times
and practice session details available.
In qualifying for Saturday evening's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 Nationwide Series race, Denny Hamlin claimed his 16th pole in 130 NASCAR Nationwide Series races, and his third pole in ten races at Phoenix, with a lap of 27.072s (132.979 mph) on the one mile tri-oval track. He'll start alongside reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Full Nationwide qualifying times
and practice sessions are also available.