Martin turned the second-fastest lap on his first circuit around the 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval, then nudged Carl Edwards to the outside of the front row with a lap at 128.327 mph to win the pole for Saturday night's Sprint Cup race. It's his 53rd career pole.
"I was very close to skinning the car up, especially off of [turn] four [on] the second lap," Martin said. "I'm driving it as hard as I can go, and at the very limits of my talent."
Edwards' top lap at 128.290 had hung on through 17 drivers, but when Martin moved to second on the scoring tower with his first lap, Edwards paid much closer attention.
"I thought we had him, and then he shot up to the top of the scoreboard," he said.
It's Martin's fifth career pole at Richmond, and it comes 31 years after his first.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is just as big a deal," he said.
It also was Michael Waltrip Racing's third pole in eight events this season.
Kevin Harvick will start third, followed by A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Busch.
For Harvick, it came after a long day and a lot of scrambling.
"We've had a terrible race car all day, to be honest with you," he said. "We just sat in the trailer afterwards and said that what we had just wasn't cutting it, so we went back to our notes from last year and were able to make some small adjustments to that.
"That's why you have notebooks. It worked out good, and hopefully we can do the same for the race and make it a little bit better than what we were last year."
The second five includes Jeff Gordon, local product Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Points leader Greg Biffle will start 28th.