Mark Martin posts fastest time, becomes oldest polesitter in 100-year history of famed IMS.


 

The Mark Martin Express rolls on.

The 50-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver, fresh off a win in the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago, will start on the pole at 1 p.m. Sunday for the 16th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

He's the oldest polesitter in the 100-year history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I like making history," said Martin. "There is nobody in NASCAR having more fun than me. And ultimately, that's what it's really all about."

Martin, the third qualifier, was helped by the early draw but his lap of 49.436 seconds at 182.054 mph was .342 seconds faster than second-place qualifier Juan Pablo Montoya, who ran 180.803 mph.

The qualifying session was delayed four hours by rain.

This has been a rejuvenating season for Martin, who was semi-retired only a few years ago.

But the veteran is driving better than many half his age.

"You know, there's no question that there are some elements that deteriorate (with age)," Martin said. "On the other hand, there are some elements that you can use as your strengths - experience and judgment - you've seen situations before. All I can do is use my strengths. I can't do anything about my weaknesses. I can't help it that I've got to have reading glasses to read a menu.

"I happen to have the same fire and desire that I had 30 years ago. Not everyone, you know, has that."

Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, has run well here both of his previous two Brickyards. He also qualified second in 2007, his rookie season, and finished second and was running fourth a year ago when he lost a tire and finished 39th.

"I'll tell you the truth, we unloaded, I think the only thing we've done to the car is changed 20 pounds on the left rear spring. The car is that good," said Montoya, whose car and driver's suit sport replicas of the design he carried for his 500 win. "I think we've got a very good car."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., despite battling a stomach virus, will start third - his best qualifying effort of this frustrating season.

"It's been a good weekend for us," said Earnhardt Jr., whose father won here in 1995.

"(Crew chief) Lance McGrew built a brand-new car to bring here. He's been talking about it for the last couple of weeks, about how excited he was to bring it here, looking forward to seeing how it would work. Seems to be doing pretty good."

Bill Elliott, the 2002 winner and another member of NASCAR's senior set, will start fourth.

"All that kept going through my head was a year ago and how bad we screwed up qualifying," said the 53-year-old Elliott.  "It hurt so bad missing this race a year ago.

"Len and Eddie (Wood) have really worked to give me something to drive and I've been working my butt off making sure that I have not let them down on the other side."

Two-time winner Tony Stewart starts seventh, defending champion Jimmie Johnson 16th and four-time winner Jeff Gordon 22nd.

Caterpillar-sponsored Jeff Burton had an extremely disappointing lap and will start 38th.

A year ago, Martin came into the race here predicting he would win. He, too, fell victim to the tire issues and finished 11th.

This year, he would make no such prognostication.

"I'm not even thinking about it," he said. "I can tell you I think it's going to be a dogfight for this race. I really do. I'd like to be in the fray."

Happy hour

The readjusted schedule left time for just one final 90-minute practice Saturday instead of two one-hour sessions.

Indiana native Ryan Newman was fastest, followed by Denny Hamlin and Johnson. Carl Edwards, who qualified 41st and had to use a provisional to make the race, rebounded to fourth in Happy Hour.

Burton ran 47 laps as his crew made major adjustments on the car. His time was the 26th fastest in the session.

Jane Miller can be reached at jmiller@pjstar.com.