Edwards, who lost the championship last season on a
tie-breaker to Tony Stewart, won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500,
beating teammate Greg Biffle for the top starting spot during a windy Sunday
qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway.
Edwards turned a lap at 194.738 mph — the fastest
pole-winning speed since Jeff Gordon’s lap of 195.067 mph in 1999. Biffle was
second at 194.087 to give Ford and Roush Fenway Racing a sweep of the front
“It’s so neat to come down here and to be so fast and to
really have fun qualifying here,” Edwards said. “These are the best race cars
we’ve ever had at Daytona. Coming down here I didn’t even consider the pole, so
this is huge.”
Biffle was not as thrilled.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Biffle said. “I hate the wind.
I guess if you’re out sailing, it’s good. It was singing down the back, but
coming down the front I just got a big gust of wind coming off of (turn) four …
I knew I didn’t have it.”
Edwards and Biffle were the only two drivers to lock down
their starting positions in Daytona’s unique qualifying format. The rest of the
starting order for next Sunday’s race is set through Thursday’s twin 150-mile
But only four starting spots are up for grabs.
NASCAR guarantees starting spots to the top 35 teams from
last season, three spots go to the fastest drivers in time trials not already
locked in and one spot goes to a previous NASCAR champion. The drivers who
earned starting spots in qualifying were defending race winner Trevor Bayne,
Tony Raines, David Stremme and former NASCAR champion Terry Labonte.
Clint Bowyer, making his debut for Michael Waltrip Racing,
was 22nd in qualifying but had his time thrown out when his car failed
inspection. NASCAR said Bowyer will have to start last in Thursday’s qualifying
race, but that’s the only penalty his No. 15 team will face.
Scott Miller, vice president of competition for MWR, said he
doesn’t think starting in the back is too big of a blow for Bowyer.
“As far as the 150 goes, you’re going to be to the front and
to the back of that thing,” Miller said. “Our competitiveness and our ability
to go win the 150 hasn’t changed any.”
Danica Patrick was 29th in qualifying, but is guaranteed a
spot in her first Daytona 500 based on a business deal Stewart Haas Racing made
with Tommy Baldwin Racing. Patrick goes into the season with the points Dave
Blaney earned for Baldwin last season, and gets into the 500 because it was a
top-35 team last year.
“To say I wasn’t nervous at all is a lie,” she said. “Of
course I was, a little bit. I want to do a good job.”
She watched Saturday night’s exhibition Budweiser Shootout
from the spotter stand, and is anxious to run in the qualifying race Thursday
to get a feel for the pack racing. NASCAR made significant tweaks to the rules
package during the offseason to break up the two-car tandem and return racing
to the fan-preferred pack.
“I’m not completely unfamiliar with the pack,” she said.
Edwards, meanwhile, is eager to race and put 2011 behind him
once and for all.
His loss to Stewart in the championship race was
gut-wrenching, and despite holding his head high and demonstrating how to lose
with dignity, he’s been unable to move forward because of the intense attention
on his defeat.
“It seems like every media question and all anybody says is,
‘How great would it have been to have one more point and how did you deal with
that this offseason?’ Edwards said. “I think this is nice to come here and show
everyone that, hey, it isn’t just talk. Everybody at Roush Fenway went back and
worked hard and kept their heads down and dug.
“This is very special. It’s not a driving accomplishment.
This is a team accomplishment, this pole.”
It gave Roush his first sweep of the Daytona 500 front row,
but marked the third time in 12 years Ford drivers have taken the top two
spots. It also comes on the heels of Ford’s victory last month in the
prestigious Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona sports car race.
“What a way to start the season,” said Jamie Allison,
director of Ford Racing. “Our Fords are fast.”
Edwards won his pole without crew chief Bob Osborne, who
missed the weekend events at Daytona after the death of his father. Chip Bolin
filled in for Osborne, and helped Edwards to his first career pole at Daytona.