Mark Martin nabs pole position at Phoenix

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Fresh off a third-place finish at the Daytona 500, Mark Martin will start on the pole for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.

In this evening’s qualifying session, Martin wheeled the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to the top spot of the grid with a fast lap of 138.074 mph around the one-mile PIR oval. Martin, who will run 24 races this season with MWR, earned his 56th career Sprint Cup pole and gave full credit to crew chief Rodney Childers and his team.

“They make great decisions and put me in great race cars,” Martin told SPEED Channel’s Matt Yocum following the end of qualifying. “I’m so proud to succeed with these guys. They back me up and support me so much.”

Martin will be joined on the front row by Kasey Kahne, who threw down a lap of 137.862 mph in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Three Hendrick drivers qualified within the top 5 positions, with Daytona winner Jimmie Johnson starting third and Jeff Gordon starting fifth. Tony Stewart wound up sixth.

Johnson and his No. 48 team had problems prior to qualifying, as the Lowe’s Chevrolet needed multiple trips to get through tech inspection. But for the five-time Sprint Cup champion, everything worked out well in the end.

“Not exactly sure, but something with [the laser inspection system] wasn’t showing right, ” Johnson said of his pre-qualifying issues on the SPEED broadcast. “We went through a couple of times and got it. I was fortunate to get in the car early, get buckled in, and try to catch my breath. I know my crew guys were winded by the time they got me down there.”

Defending race winner Denny Hamlin will start eighth and in Row 4 alongside Kevin Harvick, who won at PIR last fall. As for Danica Patrick, she’ll have a long climb ahead on Sunday after qualifying 40th.

Williams confirms Kubica and Sirotkin for Abu Dhabi F1 test

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Williams has confirmed that Robert Kubica will enjoy his third Formula 1 test outing with the team at the end-of-season running in Abu Dhabi next week as rumors grow regarding a possible race seat for 2018.

Almost seven years after his last F1 start, Kubica’s remarkable return from severe injuries sustained in a rally accident saw him enjoy two private tests with Renault before completing running with the team in a 2017-spec car in Hungary over the summer.

Reservations over Kubica’s capabilities prompted Renault to pass on giving him a seat, instead opting to hire Carlos Sainz Jr. for next year, only for Williams to become an alternative for the Pole.

Kubica tested a 2014-spec Williams at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring in recent months, and will now sample a 2017 car when he tests at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kubica will share track time with regular Williams racer Lance Stroll and Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin, who has worked with Renault over the past two years but also missed out on a 2018 seat.

“Williams Martini Racing is pleased to confirm it will run Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin for the Abu Dhabi Pirelli tire test, alongside current race driver Lance Stroll,” a statement from the team reads.

“The Pirelli tire test will take place over two days at the Yas Marina circuit during the week following the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“On day one Robert Kubica will drive the FW40 in the morning session, before Lance Stroll takes over in the afternoon.

“On day two Sergey Sirotkin will drive in the morning and afternoon sessions before handing over to Robert in the late afternoon.

“The test is aimed at evaluating 2018 candidate tires on behalf of the Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli.

“Williams is excited to have this opportunity to assess the new tyres across such an interesting range of drivers: Lance, as confirmed race driver for 2018, Robert with his huge experience, and Sergey as a very promising young talent in Formula 1.”

Williams denied earlier this week it has signed Kubica to partner Stroll for 2018, but indications are the deal looks very likely to go ahead, subject to the relevant paperwork and contracts being finalized.