BROOKLYN, Mich. — Mark Martin has 55 career Sprint Cup poles, matching the number on his Toyota.
His age is only two digits lower — not that it’s much of an impediment for this remarkable racer.
Martin posted the top qualifying speed Friday of 199.706 mph on Michigan International Speedway’s still-new surface. It was the fourth pole of the year for the 53-year-old Martin, who is making only his 15th Cup start this season. He entered only two of the previous seven races on the circuit but showed no sign of rust.
“I’ve had a few years of practice,” Martin said. “I don’t need a whole bunch of practice, I need a racecar like what I drove today. I need fast racecars.”
Martin will start at the front of Sunday’s race in the No. 55 car fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. Carl Edwards qualified second, followed by points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Edwards sounded almost in awe of the pole winner.
“He’s living the dream,” Edwards said. “He’s had a successful career. He’s able to come out here and pick and choose which races he’s going to run and to perform well at them. I think it’s pretty amazing, especially at his age. He’s an inspiration for me, as to how well you can do for such a long period.”
Martin won his first pole July 11, 1981.
“I had Mark Martin toys when I was a little kid,” Edwards said. “There are generations of people who have all had little Mark Martin toys, and who knows? My kids someday might be racing against the guy. And they might be just as frustrated.”
The track at MIS was repaved in the offseason, and Marcos Ambrose qualified for the June race at 203.241 mph, the first time since 1987 the 200 mph mark was broken during Sprint Cup qualifying. NASCAR altered left-side tires for the race that weekend, and cars slowed down.
Martin’s speed was still easily faster than Ryan Newman’s 2005 qualifying mark of 194.232 mph, which was the track record before Ambrose set a new one.
Ambrose qualified eighth this time. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at MIS in June for his first victory in four years, qualified 22nd.
Martin moved into a tie for seventh with Bill Elliott on the series’ career poles list. It will be his ninth top-10 start this year, and he has five top-10 finishes.
“What keeps him going is his love for the sport,” Johnson said. “That’s what keeps him going, and we all know about his dedication to fitness, nutrition, and I think that keeps him sharp and on top of his game at 53 years old. And you can’t take out the fact that the guy has a ton of raw talent. That’s why he is Mark Martin.”
After racing a full Cup slate the last three years, Martin has cut back in 2012.
“The best part of not being at the racetrack is being able to put my arms around my wife, see her, and do what I please,” he said. “Instead of meeting a schedule, I just do whatever I feel like doing. It’s a piece of life that I didn’t have.”
Martin has two top-five finishes this season — ironically, he didn’t win the pole either time. This is his first pole in 54 starts at MIS. He did start first in June 1990, when qualifying was canceled due to inclement weather.