BROOKLYN, Mich. — Mark Martin has 55 career Sprint Cup poles, matching the number on his Toyota.
His age is only two digits lower – not that it’s much of an impediment for this remarkable racer.
Martin posted the top qualifying speed Friday of 199.706 mph on Michigan International Speedway’s still-new surface. It was the fourth pole of the year for the 53-year-old Martin, who is making only his 15th Cup start this season. He entered only two of the previous seven races on the circuit but showed no sign of rust.
“I’ve had a few years of practice,” Martin said. “I don’t need a whole bunch of practice, I need a racecar like what I drove today. I need fast racecars.”
Martin will start at the front of Sunday’s race in the No. 55 car fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. Carl Edwards qualified second, followed by points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Edwards sounded almost in awe of the pole winner.
“He’s living the dream,” Edwards said. “He’s had a successful career. He’s able to come out here and pick and choose which races he’s going to run and to perform well at them. I think it’s pretty amazing, especially at his age. He’s an inspiration for me, as to how well you can do for such a long period.”
Martin won his first pole July 11, 1981.
The track at MIS was repaved in the off-season, and Marcos Ambrose qualified for the June race at 203.241 mph, the first time since 1987 the 200 mph mark was broken during Sprint Cup qualifying. NASCAR altered left-side tires for the race that weekend, and cars slowed down.
Martin’s speed was still easily faster than Ryan Newman’s 2005 qualifying mark of 194.232 mph, which was the track record before Ambrose set a new one.
STAYING PUT: The Army National Guard is staying on as a sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 NASCAR Sprint Cup team.
Hendrick Motorsports said Friday it has extended its relationship with the National Guard through the 2013 season.
“I think that it’s good for our team and good for the sport. We’re excited that they’re ready to be on board for the next season,” Earnhardt said Friday at Michigan International Speedway, where he’ll race Sunday. “I feel comfortable that we’re set and we can move forward.”
The contract was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.
Last month, Congress rejected a bid by Reps. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn., to trim $72.3 million for sports sponsorships from a $608 billion defense bill for fiscal 2013. The measure had targeted the money the National Guard spends to sponsor Earnhardt, as well as IndyCar Series driver JR Hildebrand.
Kingston insisted that the sponsorship money was ineffective, attracting few recruits, but he and McCollum faced strong opposition from members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation as well as lawmakers from Mississippi and Florida.
Sports leagues such as NASCAR, IndyCar, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association sent a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders urging them to oppose the amendment.
Earnhardt didn’t sound worried about the possibility the legislation could be revisited.
“I was real happy to have the Guard sign, and I expected them to continue to be part of the program. We’ve had a real positive relationship, and they’ve been real excited about what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “We’ve got some great ideas coming up that we just started implementing this past week, where we’re going to visit high schools and talk to kids and the parents and the principals and getting the Guard an opportunity to have more access at that level, so we’re doing some good things.
“That was a lot of fun. That was the first time I’ve been to a high school to talk to a group like that, so I enjoyed that.”