By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Feb. 19, 2012
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Carl Edwards had an inkling he might have a pole-winning car at Daytona International Speedway.
He was right.
With a lap at 194.738 mph (46.216 seconds) Edwards outran Greg Biffle (194.087 mph) for the top spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session, as the Roush Fenway Racing teammates locked themselves into the front row for next Sunday’s 54th running of the Great American Race.
Edwards, the fifth driver to make a qualifying attempt, won the 11th Coors Light pole award of his career and is the first qualifier for the 2013 Budweiser Shootout, now that NASCAR and the speedway have returned to the traditional eligibility criteria for the season-opening exhibition event.
“This is a very, very speedy Fastenal (Ford) Fusion, and I appreciate (crew chief) Bob Osborne and all the work he’s done,” Edwards said. “(Engine builder) Doug Yates — the engines are so important in this.
“It’s neat to come down here and to be so fast and to really have fun qualifying here. We’ve struggled so much in the past, and so many guys have put so much effort in this offseason.”
The time trials also brought good news for defending race winner Trevor Bayne, who locked himself into NASCAR’s most prestigious race with a ninth-place qualifying effort, fastest among drivers not already exempt into the field.
Bayne, who turned 21 Sunday, fought a strong gust of wind on his money lap, but he accomplished his primary objective—securing a spot in the race. Despite winning last year, Bayne wasn’t exempt because the Wood Brothers, his team owners, ran a limited schedule and finished the 2011 season outside the top 35 in owner points.
Under the quirky format peculiar to Daytona 500 qualifying, only the fastest two cars in time trials know exactly where they’ll start next Sunday — on the front row. The rest of the drivers will start the 500 based on their finishes in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races.
Tony Raines and David Stremme also know they will race in the 500, having posted the second- and third-fastest speeds among drivers not otherwise exempt. Terry Labonte likewise is in the race as the most recent past champion not otherwise qualified. Labonte could also race his way into the Daytona 500 during his Duel race, which could open the champion’s provisional for Bill Elliott.
The final four spots in the 500 field will go to the top two finishers in each Duel not already assured of a starting spot.
Last year’s pole winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had the strongest Chevrolet in the field, but his third-place qualifying effort at 194.028 mph earned him nothing more than a front-row starting spot in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race.
“The guys did a great job on putting the car out there for qualifying,” Earnhardt said. “We weren’t really seeing that kind of speed in the car (Saturday). We made a lot of changes, and I’m sure we got some help — a good push of wind down the back straightaway as well.
“But the guys did a great job. The engine shop did a great job, too. All the guys worked really hard on the body. They took this thing apart several times this winter, trying to make it as good as they could, and we can’t appreciate their help enough.”
Danica Patrick, who has a guaranteed starting spot by virtue of an owner points deal between Stewart Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, qualified 30th for her Sprint Cup debut. When she takes the green flag next Sunday, Patrick will become the third woman to start the Daytona 500, joining Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson.
Patrick’s car was spewing water long before she completed her second lap at an average speed of 191.738 mph. Race strategist Greg Zipadelli expressed some concerns about the early overheating, but, by and large, Patrick was satisfied with her first Cup qualifying effort.
“It felt fine,” she said. “It got a little hot on the water at the end, but other than that — some water blowing out of the car — but everybody did a good job. Everybody worked really, really hard on the cars.
“We were really fast in January (during testing), and I’m not sure we’re as fast right now as I thought we were going to be, but that doesn’t mean anything leading into Sunday, really. It’s nice to be fast, but anything can happen on Sunday. Any given Sunday, as they call it, right?
“The important thing is that the pretty green GoDaddy car doesn’t have any dents, and it doesn’t get into the accidents in the Duels next week, and then we have a good car for Sunday.”
Marcos Ambrose was fourth-fastest in Sunday’s session, followed by Casey Mears, as Fords claimed four of the top five spots, breaking a Hendrick Motorsports stranglehold on qualifying at restrictor-plate racetracks. Hendrick cars won all four poles at plate tracks last year.