RICHMOND, Va. — The late draw in Friday afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session made little difference at all — except to Mark Martin.
The last driver on the track, Martin sped around .75-mile Richmond International Raceway in 21.040 seconds (128.327 mph) to edge Carl Edwards (128.290 mph) by .006 seconds for the top starting spot in Saturday night’s Capital City 400.
The Coors Light Pole Award was the 53-year-old Martin’s second of the year, his fifth at Richmond and the 53rd of his career, eighth most all-time.
Kevin Harvick (128.041 mph) qualified third, followed by AJ Allmendinger (127.962 mph) and Kyle Busch (127.956 mph), who has won the last three spring Cup events at Richmond. Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start Saturday’s race from positions six through 10, respectively.
Series points leader Greg Biffle, who went out next to last, was 28th fastest in the time trials at 126.428 mph.
Conventional wisdom holds that drivers late in the draw during an afternoon session will benefit from a cooler track, but Martin was the only driver late in the session to match, in relative terms, his speed from Friday’s first practice session.
“I did not ask (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) what he put under the car,” said Martin, who in 1981 won his second career pole at Richmond — in a .542-mile configuration of the track. “We made some improvements to the car in happy Hour (final practice) in race setup right at the end.
“If it would have been me, I probably would have incorporated those changes into the qualifying setup, and I didn’t want to ask Rodney if he did or not, or what he did to the car. All I want to do is roll out on the racetrack with no preconceived notion and drive it as fast as it’d go and rely on him and his judgment.”
Martin was second fastest after the first of his two laps and edged Edwards on his second time around.
“I was really hoping that he (Childers) would call me (on the radio) on the first lap and tell me to shut it down — I told him to tell me to shut it down if we happened to get the pole on the first lap. When he didn’t, I was afraid, ‘Oh, no, we’re 15th fastest. That wasn’t near fast enough, and I’ve really got to get up on the wheel.’
“I was very close to skinning the car up, especially off of (Turn) 4 on the second lap, and that was my concern. That was my concern in practice as well. Both the qualifying runs I made in practice, I almost skinned it up, too. So I was driving as hard as I can go — at the very limit of my talent, for sure — and if I keep pushing the limits, I’m going to run out of talent here, one of these days.”
Note: Scott Riggs and J.J. Yeley failed to qualify for the 43-car field.