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.
ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).
“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.
“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”
For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.
“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.
“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”
Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.
“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.