Martin nabs pole at Phoenix

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By JOHN MARSHALL, Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Mark Martin followed a solid run at the Daytona 500 by capturing the pole at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday.

Martin finished 10th at Monday night's fiery and foaming Daytona 500 and kept his roll going, capturing his 52nd career pole with a top speed of 136.81 mph.

Regan Smith was in line to earn his first career pole until Martin bettered his time late in the qualifying session. Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart also passed Smith on the final qualifying run of the day and will start up front with Martin in Sunday's 312-mile race around the mile oval.

Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, coming off a rough run at the Daytona 500, will start fourth, next to Smith on the second row.

Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth was 26th in qualifying.

After three years with Hendrick Motorsports, Martin joined Michael Waltrip Racing to run a limited schedule this season. Martin wasn't great in qualifying at Daytona, but had a good run in one of the few races he hasn't won. He led two laps and finished in the top 10 after waiting out the two-hour delay caused by an inferno after Juan Pablo Montoya wrecked into a safety truck.

Stewart pulled out his third Sprint Cup title in the last race of the 2011 season, edging Carl Edwards. He had a busy offseason, though, firing crew chief Darian Grubb a week after winning the title, then hiring Steve Addington from Penske Racing.

Stewart qualified third at Daytona with Addington at the helm and led two laps early in the race, but was never a factor while trying to end his 14-year winless streak in NASCAR's biggest race.

Johnson had his run of five straight Sprint Cup titles end last season with his worst season in NASCAR, winning just one race and finishing sixth in the Sprint Cup standings. He opened Daytona Speedweeks by having his car fail inspection on the first day and was knocked out of the Daytona 500 on the second lap when he was bumped by Elliott Sadler.

Johnson's month got even worse on Wednesday, when NASCAR announced crew chief Chad Knaus was fined $100,000 and, along with car chief Ron Malec, suspended six races. Both were allowed to work with the No. 48 car at Phoenix after Hendrick Motorsports appealed the ruling.

Johnson also was docked 25 points, leaving him 70 behind Kenseth in the season standings. Johnson has been good at Phoenix, though, winning four races in 17 career starts.

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