Fifty-year-old Mark Martin showed up a field full of young guns, earning his first pole position since 2001 by turning a lap of 187.045 mph (29.640 seconds) during Friday's Georgia Power Qualifying Night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kurt Busch will start outside the front row for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 Sprint Cup race.
"I feel like a rookie - I really, really do," Martin said. "Not only did the lap scare me and I felt like I ran out of talent - up off of turn 4, I thought there was no possible way I was gonna hold my foot on the floor and not hit the wall with the back end first. It was really fun. This is cool. It's just cool."
In his first full season of racing since 2006, Martin has clearly not lost his touch. Friday's pole position was the 42nd of his career, and his second in Atlanta - the first since March 1992.
"It's been a long time," Martin said. "It was a pretty strenuous qualifying session. I'm looking forward to working on race setup tomorrow."
Busch will start alongside Martin after turning a lap of 186.365 mph (29.748 seconds) around the 1.54-mile quad-oval.
"When you hit a lap as good as Mark did tonight ... I think everybody saw that lap posted and thought, 'I can't even come close to that - I can't touch that,'" Busch said. "I really felt like, coming to the green, we we're gonna have our hands full; it was gonna be a busy 30 seconds. As the lap progressed, I felt like it was sticking well, but I was too tentative to throw it in the corner deep and stand on the gas. I have to thank my guys; they changed everything but the kitchen sink to end up where we are."
Jamie McMurray was at the opposite end of the spectrum, unloading fast and putting together a decent practice session that left him hopeful for qualifying.
"That was a really good lap," McMurray said, reflecting on his 29.757-second circuit (186.308 mph) that placed him third. "We didn't really change a lot on car."
Dawsonville's Bill Elliott returns to the starting lineup at his home track, qualifying 35th for Sunday's race. In his only previous start this season, Elliott notched a 23rd in Daytona.
"We gained a lot out there today, and we came a long way," Elliott said. "We ain't where we want to be, but we're in the show - we weren't an embarrassment out there. I feel like we're two races behind the field, having not raced since Daytona, but we've got a lot of good ideas to make the car better before Sunday."
Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson qualified 32nd, Unadilla's David Ragan was 39th and 18-year-old, Alpharetta-driver Joey Logano will start 42nd after making the field on owner points.
Great seats are still available for Saturday's American Commercial Line 200 Camping World Truck Series race and Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Visit the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office, call (877) 9-AMS-TIX or call 770-946-4211 to purchase your seats.