DOVER, Del. — The old man did it again.
Mark Martin, 53, the last driver to make a qualifying attempt Saturday at Dover International Speedway, ran .005 seconds faster than Jimmie Johnson to secure the top starting spot for Sunday’s FedEx 400, the 13th NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season.
The Coors Light pole award was Martin’s third of the season, his fifth at Dover and the 54th of his career, eighth most all-time — but it didn’t come easily. Martin, posted a lap at 158.297 mph (22.742 seconds), but had to push his car beyond the edge to nip Johnson (158.263 mph) for the top spot on the grid.
“I’ll never do that again,” quipped Martin after his run. “I anticipated the car being loose, but I didn’t ask (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) if he tightened it up. I knew the conditions were looser than they were in our mock qualifying run (Friday), and I didn’t want to ask him because I didn’t want to be concerned.
“I knew that I only had to make it one mile without wrecking, and I was going to drive to the limit and slightly beyond, and I felt like I did that. I wouldn’t want to do that again. But I couldn’t sit on these poles without the fastest racecar, and MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Rodney Childers in particular and the guys on our team are doing that.”
Ryan Newman (158.235 mph) qualified third, followed by Clint Bowyer (158.047 mph) and Matt Kenseth (157.985 mph). Kevin Harvick, series leader Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin will start the race from positions six through 10, respectively.
Martin’s last-ditch effort prevented Johnson from claiming his first Cup pole since Sept. 26, 2010, at Dover.
“The lap was pretty strong,” Johnson said of his second-place run. “I knew off the corner — off (Turns) 2 and 4 — I just couldn’t get the power down, being loose, and I left a little on the table. I felt it was more like a 10th (of a second), 10th and a half that I left out there, and Mark found five thousandths . . .
“Qualifying’s never been my strong suit, but I’ve been second a lot. But it is what it is. On the track, I’ll just have to take care of it and do a little better job there.”
Notes: Josh Wise and Cole Whitt failed to make the 43-car field. . . . Martin won his first NASCAR race at Dover in 1987, when he took the checkered flag in the Budweiser 200 Nationwide Series event.
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