Martin Wins Phoenix Pole
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Mark Martin may be getting better with age.
Coming off a third-place finish at the Daytona 500, Martin became the second-oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole on Friday by earning the top spot at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year.
"A lot of people describe Mark by saying, 'Mark's on it,'" Martin's crew chief, Rodney Childers, said. "Well, for 2013, Mark's on it squared."
Martin went around PIR's mile oval with a speed of 138.074 mph for his 56th career pole, passing Bill Elliott for seventh all time.
Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him just a few months behind Harry Gant, who was 54 years and 7 months when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.
"I said it last week and had some people make some snide remarks about it, but at this stage of the game it's pretty amazing I get to drive something like this," Martin said.
Danica Patrick struggled with her car in practice and didn't get it fixed for qualifying, bobbling around turns 3 and 4. She will start 40th after becoming the first woman win the pole and lead green-flag laps in a Sprint Cup race last week at the Daytona 500.
Danica Qualifies 40th At Phoenix
Drama In The Desert
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- It hasn't been your normal post-Daytona week when a guy named Jeremy Clements is the biggest story in NASCAR.
Clements -- a Nationwide Series driver most people never heard of until a few days ago (the baseball equivalent of a .200 hitter in Triple-A) -- was suspended by NASCAR for saying a racial slur.
He quickly apologized, but his careless comment, whatever it was, and NASCAR's action were the talk of the week.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson wins the Daytona 500 for a second time and Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to lead a lap in the race and finishes eighth, but an obscure minor league driver's punishment was a social media explosion.
And many people criticized big, bad NASCAR for suspending poor, little Clements, as if any other sports league would have handled it differently. But enough about Clements.
This is Phoenix International Raceway, a tricky 1-mile oval in the desert where the pretenders are separated from the contenders.
"I need to keep realistic expectations," Patrick said before qualifying 40th after winning the pole at Daytona. "I think everybody else does too. Daytona is a very unique place, but this is where the bulk of the season really starts.
"Things like being able to get up to speed quickly, knowing what I want in the car, how to push it to its limit and what its limit is are things that are going to begin to be tested now. That's something you don't really face at Daytona."
The Phoenix track was repaved and reconfigured in 2011, so the pavement still is relatively new with a lot of grip. Usually that's not a good thing for side-by-side racing, so judgment on the Gen-6 might take a little longer.
"I really don't know what to expect," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second at Daytona last week and has two victories at Phoenix. "This surface is very new. For us to be able to put on the best race we can put on, surfaces that have a few more years on them tend to do better. It tends to widen out and give us more grooves to run in the corners."
Petty Blue Is Back
On Wednesday, Richard Petty Motorsports and sponsor Smithfield Foods announced that during the 25 races when Smithfield is the primary sponsor on Petty's famous No. 43 Ford, it will be returning to a throwback design of basic logos against Petty Blue.
That begins this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway with Smithfield's Farmland Foods brand on the hood of Aric Almirola's Fusion.
The hope is to err on the side of tradition, stepping around the often confusing rotation of complicated paint jobs that, in Petty's opinion, makes it too hard to pick out his RPM cars from the grandstands or on TV.
"Maybe I'm just old-school, but I like it simple," Petty said. "I like consistency. Now, no matter what week it is, you can spot that 43 car as soon as you start looking."
Why is this a big deal? Is a paint scheme really news?
It is when it's this particular paint.
"Name me one other kind of paint so famous that everyone knows its name, immediately associates it with one individual and one family," says H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, former longtime president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "You can't. Not just in sports, but really anywhere."
Wheeler has a point. Dale Earnhardt will forever be associated with black, but it's not called Intimidator Black. There's no Jimmie Blue or Johnson Gold. Nor is there a Pearson Crimson or Yarborough Orange. There was a time when Jeff Gordon laid claim to the rainbow, but he was always in line behind at the very least Finian and the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Even Celtics Green and Dodger Blue are associated with teams, not individuals. It's not Bird Green and Koufax Blue.