Martin takes Phoenix pole

Mark Martin continues to show no signs of slowing down in NASCAR's top series.

Martin, who turned 54 years old on Jan. 9, won his 56th career pole in the Sprint Cup Series on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver turned a lap at 138.074 mph to earn the top starting position for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. He also started on the pole for the spring race at Phoenix one year ago.

Martin is the second oldest driver in the series to win a pole. Harry Gant grabbed the pole for the August 1994 race at Bristol when he was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days old. Martin also took sole possession of seventh on the series' all-time pole winners list. He had been in a tie with Bill Elliott.

"(Crew chief) Rodney Childers and all the guys on the (No. 55 team) do such an incredible job," Martin said. "The car was right on the money. They started talking about what they were going to do to it for qualifying, and I just covered my ears up and left. (Childers) text me later and said, 'I wasn't trying to scare you,' and I said, 'You just do what you do, man, and I'll drive it'."

Martin's lap here did not surpass the track qualifying record, which was set by Kyle Busch last November with a lap at 138.766 mph. Phoenix, a one-mile oval, is the first race on a downforce track for the Gen-6 -- NASCAR's new race car. The Gen-6, which made its competition debut the past two weeks at Daytona, is 150 pounds lighter and has more downforce than the previous Cup car (2007-12).

Kasey Kahne will share the front row with Martin after posting a lap at 137.862 mph. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson qualified third at 137.804 mph. Johnson has the most wins at Phoenix but his last victory here was in November 2009.

"I'm very excited about how things have started off this season, obviously with Daytona last week," Johnson said. "We're now here for our first downforce race, and we've been towards the top of the board. We're off to a good start."

Kyle Busch took the fourth spot, followed by Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, who won the most recent Sprint Cup race at Phoenix four months ago.

Denny Hamlin, who won at Phoenix one year ago, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman completed the top-10.

Danica Patrick placed 40th in the 43-car qualifying field. Patrick, who started on the pole for the Daytona 500 last Sunday, complained of a loose car during her qualifying run.

"The car was just loose, and I couldn't turn it," she said. "We knew that from last year (fall race) being here that it was going to get loose in qualifying. We made a change at the end of practice, and the car was dancing all around on top of the track. We thought we fixed it for qualifying, but it had the same problem again."

Sunday's 312-mile race at Phoenix is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m. ET.