AVONDALE, Ariz. — Mark Martin switched teams during the off-season to join Michael Waltrip Racing, the latest move in his multi-stop career.
Wherever he’s gone, the veteran driver has won, and it doesn’t look as if it’ll take long to do it again with his new team.
Martin followed up a solid run at the Daytona 500, nabbing his 52nd career pole on one of the last qualifying runs Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.
“You look at Mark Martin, it doesn’t matter whose car he drives, he’s good in it,” said defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who will start on the front row next to Martin for today’s 312-mile race. “To me, it’s cool to see stuff like this where you’ve got a guy like Mark that has bounced around to different organizations and he’s been fast and won races at everywhere he’s been.”
Regan Smith appeared to be in line for his first career pole, sitting atop the grid with just a handful of qualifiers left.
Two of those drivers were Martin and Stewart, who know a little about racing around Phoenix’s mile oval – or anywhere else.
Martin was the first to pass Smith, turning a lap of 26.313 seconds with a top speed of 136.815 mph.
Stewart also bettered Smith with the last qualifying run of the day, finishing .13 seconds behind.
Smith watched it unfold quickly, seeing himself go from first to third in a matter of minutes as the TV cameras followed his reaction.
“Yeah, you get nervous,” said Smith, who wrecked in both Phoenix races last season. “You want to get it. Poles mean something, they’re stats. Nobody is going to remember we qualified third ... but we’re happy to be starting up front.”
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, off to a disastrous start to the season, will start on the second row with Smith after qualifying fourth. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified fifth, five days after a bizarre crash into a safety truck at the Daytona 500.