AVONDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - Mark Martin switched teams in the offseason 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 Sunday’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.
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.
Martin has raced for seemingly every team on the circuit while winning 40 career races. He spent the past three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, but changed teams in the offseason, joining Michael Waltrip for a partial season.
Martin, who will run 24 of 36 races this season while sharing seat time with Waltrip, struggled in qualifying at the Daytona 500 and started 22nd. He was good once the race finally got going after nearly two days of weather delays, leading two laps before finishing 10th at NASCAR’s biggest race.
Martin followed that up by grabbing the pole at PIR, where he’s won twice _ last in 2009 _ and has 28 top-10 finishes.
Not bad for a grizzled 53-year-old whose first Sprint Cup race was in 1981.
“I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than guys that are 20 years younger than me,” Martin said. “I’m willing to do that to be able to compete.”