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Carl Edwards To Start The 500 From The Pole

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 19 2012

Carl Edwards earned the right to start next Sunday's Daytona 500 from the pole. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Carl Edwards went out early in Sunday’s qualifying session for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 and he went out fast. So fast that none of the 44 drivers who followed him onto the track at Daytona International Speedway could better his speed.

As a result, Edwards will start NASCAR’s biggest race from the pole and in the process, perhaps help scab-over any wounds left by the disappointing finish to the 2011 season.

Edwards ran his fast lap at 194.738 mph Sunday. He went around the 2.5-mile DIS oval in 46.22 seconds.

“This is amazing,” Edwards said. “When I came down here I didn’t even consider the pole as a possibility.”

Starting next to Edwards on the front row will be his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle. Biffle’s Ford put down a lap of 194.087 mph. His time was 46.37 seconds.

“It’s a great day,” Biffle said.

“It was great,” said team owner Jack Roush. “We had a sweep that’s also in the record book in 2004. We had one of Robert Yates’ No. 38 car and Greg Biffle’s No. 16 car then, but it’s great for Ford Motor Company. Ford has been behind my racing and been a great partner for more than 40 years now. Many days they don’t get what they deserve, but today we’ve rejoiced in success and I’ll be happy to get the phone calls early in the week from people as they go back to work and read the newspapers and figure out what’s happened. Hopefully, they can sell some more Fords on Monday as well.”

The rest of the starting grid for the 500 will be determined next week during the Gatorade Duels qualifying races.

For Edwards, winning the pole gave him and his team a bit of relief. Last year, they had the points lead heading into the final race of the year. But in that final race, held at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart got the win, collected maximum points, tied Edwards in points and was awarded the championship on a tie-breaker.

Yes, Edwards said after winning the pole for the 500, that has been on his team’s mind.

“It feels really nice,” he said. “This is our second pole in a row, so it feels nice to pick up right where we left off. I’ve been telling everybody – 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 off-season?’ 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, just like Chip said, they’re the best racecars we’ve had in a long time, so I thank Jack Roush for that and I thank Chip and Bob and Robbie Reiser and Doug Yates and everybody who builds these racecars for not letting the disappointment of not winning that championship slow us down, but, instead, giving us real motivation.”

The pole was just the 11th of Edwards’ career. A career that started in 2004 and has featured 265 Cup starts.

He said that starting the year with the pole not only feels good, but is important.

“Bob (Osborne, his crew chief) and I and Jack (Roush) and Chip (Bolin, his crew chief this weekend in the absence of Osborne) and everyone,” Edwards said, “we’ve recognized the last couple year that qualifying is more important, that it’s harder to pass and I do get a lot of really good advice from Robbie and Jack and Bob and all these guys about my shortcoming as a racecar driver. They’ve kind of kicked me in the butt a little bit and we’ve all agreed that we need to focus more on qualifying. I think that our success out there comes from some of that recognition that it is important and focusing on it.”

Though, he said, starting position will not mean a whole lot next Sunday in a restrictor-plate race which will feature pack racing and constant shuffling of the running order.

“That’s what I’ve always said, but I’ve never qualified up front,” Edwards said.

And as far as being protected by running up front and out of the fray, Edwards said don’t count on that next week.

“We’re likely to wreck up there in the front too,” he said. “Last night (in the Budweiser Shootout), I was running second behind Greg and Clint was third and he got turned sideways coming out of the tri-oval, so I truly don’t know there’s a safe place on the race track with this style of racing, but the think that’s really good for me is that Greg is a guy who has been my partner at these restrictor plate races is starting right there with us. Him and I can work together. I know Greg has my best interests and Roush’s best interests in mind, just as I do for him, so that kind of makes me feel better, that we’ll be together at the start and we don’t have to go find each other to help one another later.”

Going out fifth in the session on Sunday may have played a significant role in Edwards’ pole-winning lap as winds picked up as the 2-plus-hour qualifying session progressed.

The third-fastest lap of the qualifying session belonged to Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports. His top qualifying laps was 194.028 mph.

Among other top drivers: four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was sixth; 2011 500 winner Trevor Bayne of Wood Brothers Racing was ninth; defending series champion Tony Stewart was 10th; Mark Martin was 11th; five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was 12th; Bud Shootout winner Kyle Busch was 28th; Danica Patrick was 29th.

Locking into the starting field among drivers not in the top 35 in points were Bayne, David Stremme and Tony Raines.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 19 2012
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