Martin clinches pole at Richmond
28 April 2012
Remember Mark Martin setting a new record last month for the oldest man to start a Sprint Cup race on pole position? Well, scratch that one, it's been broken. A month and a half older, Martin is not only wiser - he's also still faster.
His qualifying lap of 21.040s (128.327 mph) was 0.006s ahead of Carl Edwards, with the younger man only able to marvel at Martin's longevity and continuing ability to set such high benchmarks at the age of 53 years, 3 months and 19 days.
Martin himself seems to be revelling in the challenge of helping his new team Michael Waltrip Racing step up to the proverbial next level, and reenergised by having opted for a less demanding 26-race partial season in 2012.
"I really want to make MWR better, said Martin. "That's more important to me than anything."
Martin was the last runner in qualifying for Saturday night's Capital City 400 Cup race having earlier topped the earlier practice 1 session on Friday afternoon. The later qualifiers typically benefit from the cooler conditions later in the day, but this time Martin was the only driver late in the session to really challenge for pole, let alone pull it off.
"I was really hoping that [crew chief Rodney Childers] would call me on the first lap and tell me to shut it down," said Martin. "I told him to tell me to shut it down if we happened to get the pole on the first lap. When he didn't, I was afraid, 'Oh, no, we're 15th-fastest. That wasn't near fast enough!
"I was very close to skinning the car up, especially off of 4 on the second lap, and that was my concern. "I was driving as hard as I can go, at the very limit of my talent, for sure. If I keep pushing the limits, I'm going to run out of talent here, one of these days!"
Fans and fellow competitors will be amazed if they ever see such a day come about, however. Meanwhile Edwards was left analysing his own earlier lap to see where he could have shaved off those six thousandths.
"We are happy, that is a good lap," he insisted. "We have a better race trim package than we do a qualifying trim package so I am excited about that."
Kevin Harvick will start from the second row of the grid alongside last weekend's polesitter AJ Allmendinger, a positive qualifying outcome for the Richard Childress Racing driver after a distinctly troubled day of practice.
“We have had a terrible race car all day to be honest with you," said Harvick. "We just sat in the trailer after practice and said that what we had wasn't cutting what we needed to in the center of the corner and up off.
"So we went back to our notes from last year and were able to make some small adjustments to that and that is why you have notebooks," he continued. "It has worked out good and hopefully we can do the same for the race and make it a little bit better than what we were last year.”
Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon took the third row of the grid, with Gordon feeling pretty happy with the outcome. "It was a pretty good lap; you know the car was well-balanced," he said after his run. "You know it's just something we have been struggling with in practice and I felt like we guessed really well today."
He pointed out, "It's such a guessing game just in the track temps coming down. The track picks up so much speed so I am anxious to see where we end up."
Other notable qualifying outcomes include Kurt Busch in a strong 13th place for Phoenix Racing, his Friday night win in the Nationwide Series likely to put a spring in his step as he approaches the Saturday Cup event. "We will get beat by some of the other guys, but all-in-all we just needed to get the car to feel the four tyres and we got that so far," he said.
He'll start just ahead of Marcos Ambrose in 14th, while Brad Keselowski will start from 16th, Juan Montoya from 20th and Tony Stewart from 22nd. Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle will be disappointed to qualify in 27th and 28th respectively, however, especially as Biffle had started the day with second-fastest time behind Martin in practice 1 which meant that he was the penultimate qualifier.
"I don't know what happened there," he admitted. "I just guess we didn't have the grip we needed. I was probably just a little bit tight in the centre I guess and that was all the grip I had. It was all that I could do."
Earlier, Paul Menard had crashed at the exit of turn 4 during the first practice session and needed to take to the back-up car. Team owner Richard Childress said that a nut had fallen off the throttle of the #27 and stuck the engine wide open, leaving Menard unable to do anything to avoid the accident.
"The throttle broke," Menard confirmed. "It hung open as I was coming out onto the straightaway so my foot wasn't on the brake and I tried kicking it back even after I hit the wall. It was still hung open so I just laid on the brake and it shut off like it was supposed to."
Since the accident happened before qualifying, Menard won't incur any penalties for witching to the back-up car. "The primary was good and I am sure the back-up will be good,” he said, going on to qualify for the race in 31st position.