Mark Martin, 54, outduels Father Time for pole at Phoenix 500

AVONDALE, Ariz. — How did 54-year-old Mark Martin beat all those kids Friday for the pole at Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500?

“He’s not afraid to stand on the gas, for starters,” third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson said, in clear awe of Martin’s enduring skill.

Martin drove a lap of 138.074 mph, edging out Kasey Kahne and Johnson for the top spot. Whatever Martin’s advanced age gives away, he just might make up in wisdom: He doesn’t inflict himself on crew chief Rodney Childers’ mechanical decisions and he knows how much risk to take through the corners of one lap.

“All I think about is, ‘How do I put it right on the edge without going over?’ I know I can’t do that for a second lap,” Martin said.

Martin, a workout freak, says he doesn’t know whether his conditioning made a difference early in his career, but…

“There’s no doubt the longevity of my career is hugely dependent on that,” said Martin, who might be in his last season. “At this stage of the game, it’s pretty amazing I could be driving for a race team like this.”

Busch to the backup: Kurt Busch got loose in his qualifying run, and the car was damaged sufficiently that he’ll go to his backup Chevrolet and will start at the back of the pack Sunday.