It's been more than eight years since he last won a NASCAR Sprint Cup pole, but that didn't stop Mark Martin from turning back the clock and grabbing the top time in Atlanta today.
Martin turned in a fast lap time of 187.045 miles per hour to score the pole for the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday with the green flag start time of 2:00 p.m. (ET).
Martin's last pole was at Richmond in 2001 when he was still driving for Jack Roush.
"It's pretty cool for (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and the guys to pull this off," said Martin, who will pace the field to the green flag for the first time in 257 races." They're a real special group and I'm just so happy for them. We need to win this race."
Martin admitted that his qualifying lap was a hairy ride and despite having 46 Sprint Cup starts under his belt at AMS, the speed at the 1.54 mile circuit still gets his attention.
"From Turn 1 to Turn 4 you are holding on for dear life," said Martin, who won here in 1991 and 1994 and also won the pole here in 1992. "With the sun out, for this speed of race track - I don't know what words to use - under the best conditions it's very treacherous. I think the thing you've got to do is have the best race car on the track and then you don't have to drive it as hard. If you have to drive it as hard as it can go, it will be all over the race track. The only way you can make it comfortable is if you can drive it at 90 per cent."
Martin started the season on the outside pole for the Daytona 500 but slipped back for a 16th place finish. He dropped out the past two events with engine troubles and said that it's important for the confidence of his team to have a good weekend in Atlanta.
"I've thought more about the race team than I did about me - I have pretty tough skin," Martin said. "I have a real soft spot in my heart for the people that are digging so hard. This is awesome for them. It's good for me and all that, but it's awesome for them it's the first real solid step of turning around our luck and what has happened."
Martin was also fastest in practice on Friday but said that they still have some work to do to get the car ready for Sunday.
"We've got to make this thing drive good," Martin said. "It was a handful in practice. Just because we got the pole doesn't give us a leg up in the race."
Kurt Busch will also start on the front row after checking in at 186.365 MPH. He said that he was surprised that he was able to put in the second fastest lap of the session.
"It felt like coming to the green that we were going to have our hands full and it was going to be a busy thirty seconds," Busch said. "As the lap progressed I felt like the car was sticking well. I was a little tentative and I'm a little surprised we are sitting here right now. We changed everything but the kitchen sink to get to where we are right now."
Busch said that when he saw Martin put up the only 187-plus MPH lap that he instantly knew it would take the pole.
"It's amazing when you hit a lap as good as Mark did tonight," Busch said. "I think everyone saw that lap get posted and thought 'man I can't touch that.' If you hit it just right, you don't know if you are tight or loose. You just hope that the lap ends. I think that's the feeling everyone had tonight. I'm surprised we qualified that well. We ran a different groove and maybe that came into play."
Jamie McMurray qualified third while Juan Pablo Montoya and Greg Biffle round out the top five. Kyle Busch, who won last Sunday in Las Vegas, qualified ninth while points leader Jeff Gordon will start 16th.
Todd Bodine, Scott Riggs, Jeremy Mayfield and Geoffrey Bodine had to qualify on time and missed the cut.