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Mark Martin has always been one to sing praises about Dover International Speedway each and every time he visits the track. It’s understandable that after Saturday’s qualifying for the June 3 “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, he’s going to be even more pleased with the Monster Mile.
Martin took the pole for Sunday’s race with a fast lap of 158.297 mph. It’s his fifth career pole at Dover, which ties him with Rusty Wallace for second all-time, trailing only David Pearson’s six poles. At the same time, it’s Martin’s first pole at Dover since 1998.
Martin edged Jimmie Johnson by an amount of time that’s somewhat incomprehensible – his lap was 22.742 seconds to 22.747 for Johnson. He did it by driving the car about as hard as he could. Just about every driver found their car to be loose after heavy rains overnight cleaned the track, changing conditions dramatically from Friday’s practice sessions.
“I would never try that again,” Martin laughed. “I anticipated the car being loose, but I didn’t ask [crew chief] Rodney [Childress] if he tightened it up. I knew the conditions were looser than our mock qualifying run yesterday. I knew I only had to make it one mile without wrecking. I knew I was going to have to drive it to the limit and a bit beyond, and I did that.”
With the pole goes first opportunity to select a pit stall, which should alter one of Martin’s lesser-known trademarks at Dover. Typically the pole-sitter will select the first spot on pit road, closest to the garage, and the rest of the drivers will follow suit moving down the pits. But Martin has often chosen to take the very last pit stall – the one at the very beginning of pit road – just because he finds it easier to work with than any of the ones in between.
The 53-year-old Martin is showing no signs of slowing down, which is a bit remarkable considering he tried to retire after the 2005 season but kept getting sucked back in to race cars. He’s finally running the part-time schedule this year that he’s wanted to do for quite some time, sharing a ride for Michael Waltrip Racing. But in his 10 races this year, he now has three poles. Those who he edged out at Dover were appropriately amazed, including Johnson.
“I’ve been able to pick his brain and understand him on many levels,” Johnson said. “His passion for the sport, he’s tried to retire a few times and just can’t do it. He created this opportunity. He wanted to run a limited schedule and he’s done it a couple times. Mentally and physically, the work he’s put in and has put in over the years to keep him in this position. If you’re strong physically it’s also good for the mind, and he’s covered those bases and continues to show it.”
Ryan Newman will start third, with Clint Bowyer going off fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth. Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin round out the top 10.
Green flag for the June 3 “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race drops at 1 p.m.
For the complete starting lineup, click here.