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Pole-sitter Mark Martin laps field in experience

MARK MARTIN: Pole 52 at age 53

AVONDALE, Ariz. - Mark Martin switched teams in the offseason to join Michael Waltrip Racing, the latest move in his multi-stop career.

Wherever he’s gone, the veteran driver has won, and it doesn’t look as if it’ll take long to do it again with his new team.

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Martin followed up a solid run at the Daytona 500 by nabbing his 52d career pole on one of the last qualifying runs yesterday at Phoenix International Raceway.

“You look at Mark Martin, it doesn’t matter whose car he drives, he’s good in it,’’ said defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who will start on the front row next to Martin for today’s race, the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

“To me, it’s cool to see stuff like this where you’ve got a guy like Mark that has bounced around to different organizations and he’s been fast and won races at everywhere he’s been.’’

Regan Smith appeared to be in line for his first career pole, sitting atop the grid with just a handful of qualifiers left.

Two of those drivers were Martin and Stewart.

Martin was the first to pass Smith, turning a lap of 26.313 seconds with a top speed of 136.815 miles per hour. Stewart also bettered Smith with the last qualifying run of the day, finishing .13 seconds behind. Smith watched it unfold quickly, seeing himself go from first to third in a matter of minutes.

“Yeah, you get nervous,’’ said Smith, who wrecked in both Phoenix races last season. “Poles mean something, they’re stats. Nobody is going to remember we qualified third . . . but we’re happy to be starting up front.’’

Martin has raced for seemingly every team on the circuit while winning 40 career races. He spent the past three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, but changed teams in the offseason, joining Waltrip for a partial season. Martin, who will run 24 of 36 races while sharing seat time with Waltrip, struggled in qualifying at the Daytona 500 and started 22d.

He was good once the race finally got going after nearly two days of weather delays, leading two laps before finishing 10th at NASCAR’s biggest race.

Martin followed that up by grabbing the pole at PIR, where he’s won twice - last in 2009 - and has 28 top-10 finishes. Not bad for a grizzled 53-year-old whose first Sprint Cup race was in 1981.

“I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than guys that are 20 years younger than me,’’ Martin said. “I’m willing to do that to be able to compete.’’

Elliott Sadler took the lead after a late caution and held on down the stretch yesterday to earn his first Nationwide win in 14 years. A former full-time driver in the Sprint Cup series, Sadler started eighth and didn’t get near the lead until the end of the race. He passed Brad Keselowski after a caution with 33 laps left and wasn’t really challenged on the way to his sixth career Nationwide win - first in 91 races in the series.

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