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Martin to start on pole Sunday at Phoenix

TBO.com
Associated Press
The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:53 PM

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AVONDALE, Ariz. -

Mark Martin will be on the pole at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year after becoming the second-oldest polesitter in NASCAR history.

Martin went around PIR's mile oval at a speed of 138.075 mph Friday to earn his 56th career pole a week after finishing third in the Daytona 500.

Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him a few months short of beating Harry Gant as the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole. Gant was 54 when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.

Kasey Kahne will start on the front row with Martin for Sunday's 312-mile race. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in third next to Kyle Busch.

Martin started on the pole at PIR last year before finishing ninth and won from the pole in 2009. He had a solid Daytona 500 on Sunday, starting 14th and working his way to the front to make a big move on the final lap to finish behind Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Martin hasn't won since Loudon in 2009.

Kahne had a disappointing Daytona 500, collected in the race's first wreck on his way to finishing 36th after starting sixth. He's had some success at Phoenix, though, winning the fall race in 2011 and put together a good qualifying run early in the session.

Johnson had a whirlwind tour after winning his second Daytona 500 on Sunday, hitting eight states and David Letterman's guest chair — along with announcing a new deal with primary sponsor Lowe's — in the four days before arriving at PIR.

The five-time Sprint Cup champion didn't have a chance to debrief with his team and arrived in the desert exhausted. He won't get much of a break here, either, with Sprint Cup practice and qualifying Friday, his second career Nationwide race today and Sunday's race.

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 to win the pole and lead green-flag laps in a Sprint Cup race last week at the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt passes test after Daytona crash

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shook off a hard hit in last week's Nationwide Series race to start the Daytona 500 the next day.

For someone who's coming off a concussion, it was a big step.

"I was real happy I was able to pass a personal test, I guess," Earnhardt said from Phoenix International Raceway on Friday. "When you have concussions, sometimes they're easier to get the second, third, fourth time around, so we survived that one. We'll try to move on and not get in any more wrecks."

Earnhardt made the Chase for the Championship last season, but finished 12th after missing the final two races with post-concussion symptoms.

He had his health tested right away this season after hitting the wall hard during a last-lap crash in the Nationwide race on Saturday.

The 12-car melee started as the cars headed toward the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski, setting off a chain reaction. Rookie Kyle Larson's car went airborne during the wreck and flew into the fence, injuring more than two dozen fans.

Earnhardt tried to steer clear of the carnage in front of him, but he was blocked and was sent into the wall hard. He was cleared in the medical center after the wreck and returned the next day for the Daytona 500, where he finished second for the third time in four years after a late charge.

"I was concerned just how my body was going to react to that," Earnhardt said. "I felt pretty good after the wreck and that evening and the next day felt awesome, and was able to get in the car. Everything came naturally and (I) was able to put together a good race."

ANNETT RELEASED: NASCAR driver Michael Annett was released from a hospital following surgery to repair a fractured and dislocated sternum.

His Richard Petty Motorsports team said the recovery process could take two months for the Nationwide driver.

Annett was injured in a crash in the series opener at Daytona on Saturday. He spent one night in a Daytona Beach hospital before returning to North Carolina. His injuries were diagnosed in Charlotte, and he had surgery Tuesday.

Annett was injured before the last-lap crash.

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