NASCAR: Martin to start up front at Phoenix

JOHN MARSHALL AP Sports Writer Published:

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Mark Martin may be getting better with age.

Coming off a third-place finish at the Daytona 500, Martin became the second-oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole on Friday by earning the top spot at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year.

"A lot of people describe Mark by saying 'Mark's on it,'" Martin's crew chief Rodney Childers said. "Well, for 2013, Mark's on it squared."

Martin went around PIR's mile oval with a speed of 138.074 mph for his 56th career pole, passing Bill Elliott for seventh all-time.

Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him just a few months behind Harry Gant, who was 54 years and 7 months when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.

Martin will be joined on the front row by Kasey Kahne for Sunday's 312-mile race, with Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch in the second row.

"I said it last week and had some people make some snide remarks about it, but at this stage of the game it's pretty amazing I get to drive something like this," Martin said.

Martin started on the pole at PIR last year before finishing ninth and won from the pole in 2009. He had a solid opening to the 2013 season, starting 14th at Daytona last Sunday 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 followed it up with his third pole at Phoenix to put himself in position to win for the first time since Loudon in 2009.

Not bad for a driver who's got a part-time gig with Michael Waltrip Racing this season.

"I deeply admire him and his passion for the sport," said Johnson, a five-time Sprint Cup series champion and Martin's former teammate. "He's tried to walk away a few times -- I think we had a farewell tour for him once -- and he came back. He couldn't do it. He just loves driving his car and is an inspiration for any team he works for."

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.

"Five-Time" didn't have a chance to debrief with his team and arrived in the desert exhausted.

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