Joe Jennings, NASCAR correspondent
In qualifications for the Capital City 400, the ninth race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Mark Martin went out last and came away with the pole position. The 53-year old driver zipped around the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway at a speed of 128.327 miles per hour, surpassing Carl Edwards by a mere 6/1000th of a second.
In earning his sixth career pole at RIR, Martin drove Michael Waltrip Racing’s Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. The veteran driver earned his 53rd career Sprint Cup pole. He has five more Nationwide Series poles at this highly competitive track.
Martin’s first-ever pole at Richmond came in 1981 in his fourth Sprint Cup race. At the time, track was a half-mile in length. For Martin, he remembers that run like it was yesterday, indicating he knows the spring settings, the weight distribution and the adjustments made to the car after qualifications.
I still think I am lucky because not too many 53-year olds are living the dream.
“My first pole came 31 years ago here, and it was a pretty big deal to be sitting on the pole then with my late model team,” Martin said. “As far as I am concerned, this is just as big of a deal (today). This is pretty cool. I can’t believe I have the opportunity to drive this car and work with this team. I am really lucky.
“I drive a really fast race car and that makes all the difference. I can’t do it without a fast race car. If I had a slow car, I wouldn’t be on the pole. I still think I am lucky because not too many 53-year olds are living the dream.”
Driving a part-time schedule for MWR, Martin said his goal is to help the team get two cars into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. “This effort wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous effort Martin Truex Jr. has put into this thing for Clint Bowyer Jr. and I. This (result) is the culmination of incredible teamwork and great people that are doing great work at MWR,” he added.
Edwards held the provisional pole throughout much of the qualifying session, only to be toppled by Martin in the final moments. The Missouri native drove the Ford Eco-Boost Ford and his speed was 128.290 mph.
Martin’s time for one lap was 21.040 seconds and Edwards was a tick behind at 21.046.
Said Edwards, “It is good for us to be on the front row. If you can’t be first, you better be second. It is a good starting point for us. It was dramatic (qualifications) for me to watch Mark (Martin) run that first lap. I thought we had him but then he jumped to the top of the board. Mark (Martin) has nerves of steel and did a great job.”
Kevin Harvick timed third fastest in the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet at 128.041 mph. “We have had a terrible race car all day,” he said. “What we had wasn’t cutting it, so we went back to our notes from last year, and it worked out good for us.”
A.J. Allmendinger qualified the Shell Pennzoil Dodge at 127.692 mph.
Kyle Busch timed fifth in a Toyota and Jeff Gordon sixth in a Chevrolet.
Seventh through 10th were Denny Hamlin, Truex, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Other notables were Ryan Newman in 12th, Brad Keselowski 16th, Tony Stewart 22nd, Matt Kenseth 24th, Jimmie Johnson 27th and point leader Greg Biffle 28th.
Failing to qualify were Scott Riggs and J. J. Yeley.
Paul Menard had to switch to a back-up car after crashing his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet during practice. Said Menard, “The throttle broke. It hung open as I was coming onto the straightaway, so my foot wasn’t on the brake. I tried kicking it back even after I hit the wall, but it was still hung open, so I just laid on the brake and it shut off like it was supposed to.”
And shortly thereafter, the throttle stuck in the back-up car, which cofounded the RCR team.
Menard recovered from his scary day to qualify 31st.