Mark Martin, continuing to illustrate how he defies aging, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks Sprint Cup race at one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks – Dover International Speedway.
Martin, 53, was the last driver on the qualifying grid, and he ran 158.297 miles per hour to edge former teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was clocked at 158.263.
“Mentally and physically, the work he puts in and has always put in over the years makes a difference,” Johnson said of Martin, now running a part-time schedule. “There are guys decades younger than him who have knee and back issues at much younger ages, and he has worked through all that.”
Martin, who scored his 54th career pole, is not the sport’s oldest pole winner. Retired driver Harry Gant won a pole at Bristol, TN in 1994 at the age of 54.
“I’ve been through everything you can think of in my career,” said Martin, who made his Cup debut in 1981. “There are changes. If you want to keep up with the revolutionaries in this business, you have to be willing to sample every single idea that’s out there and evaluate it and do a good job of determining whether you need to progress down that road or not.”
Following Martin and Johnson Saturday were Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth.
In the second five were Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Martin, who will turn 54 years old in January, can become the sport’s oldest pole winner next season, although he said Saturday that would bring mixed emotions.
“One, I wouldn’t want to beat Harry Gant’s record,” he said. “He’s the man, in my eyes. On the other side of that, records are records. That’s why we do what we do. I’m neutral on that. I certainly respect to the hilt Harry Gant and really liked him and enjoyed racing with him and liked talking to him off the race track.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.