Carl Edwards led a Ford – and Roush–Fenway Racing – sweep of the front row for next weekend's Daytona 500 as he and Greg Biffle locked themselves into the top starting spots for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener.
Ford have often been the strongest at NASCAR's Superspeedway's – the Roush-Yates engines frequently proving the most powerful. Both races at Daytona last season were won by Ford drivers, Trevor Bayne scoring a shock win twelve months ago in the Daytona 500 while David Ragan took his own maiden win when the series returned in July.
“This is very special,” said Edwards. “It’s not a driving accomplishment. This is a team accomplishment, this pole. As a driver, any one of the drivers out there that would have gone out at the time I had gone out, would have been driving that 99 car, the Fastenal Fusion, this he would have run the same lap time I did.”
“This pole and these qualifying sessions at these restrictor plate racetracks, it shows you what the guys are doing at the shop, it shows you the engine capabilities, the engineering, the decisions by guys like Chip and Bob. So this is about the team. Today there’s a lot of pride in this for everyone. Just like Jack said. I’m excited to have all the guys back at the shop this week know they sent the best racecars down to Daytona.”
However, Edwards' pole – with a lap averaging 194.738mph – was the first for Ford since another front sweep by Yates Racing teammates Ricky Rudd and David Gilliland in 2007 with all the intervening pole spots falling to Chevrolet drivers.
For a time Fords held the top four spots as Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears held third and fourth spots respectively. Into this blue oval domination came Dale Earnhardt Jr. who took over third place (194.028mph). 'Junior' was the best of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon was sixth fastest, Jimmie Johnson twelfth and Kasey Kahne 25th in the no.5 car he's taken over from Mark Martin.
Tony Stewart began his title defense by setting the tenth fastest time, Budweiser Shootout winner Kyle Busch, could only muster the 28th best time.
Ford's domination of qualifying was indicated by the six Fusion men in the top ten. Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bayne also slotting in. Bayne, returning in the no.21 Wood Brothers car was not guaranteed a start spot but easily locked himself into the field with his qualifying performance.
On his 21st birthday Bayne believed he had the car to challenge for pole, but like several drivers lower down the qualifying order was left to rue the gusting wind that ended their chance to better Edwards' early run.
With either Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott poised to take a Champions Provisional slot to start the 500 a total of three spots were available to the fastest qualifiers not locked in by virtue of owner points carried over from 2011.
Tony Raines took the second spot, while David Stremme – 48th to qualify out of the 49 entries pinched the final spot fractionally ahead of Kenny Wallace, Terry Labonte and Dave Blaney.
Dave Blaney was plunged back into the 'go or go home' after his 2011 owner points where switched to Danica Patrick's no.10 car to make sure of the Indycar-convert's place in the big race. Danica – it should be noted was just faster than Blaney – though she too would have missed out on one of the fastest three spots available to those not locked in.
Daytona Speedweeks have already included a number of drivers being cited for infractions – Jimmie Johnson by far the most high-profile – and qualifying was no exception with Clint Bowyer failing a ride height test on his debut for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Bowyer will now start 24th and last for his Gatorade Duel. While Edwards and Biffle are locked into the front row the rest of the starting field is set by the finishing order of the two races scheduled for Thursday.
The Duels offer another chance for Wallace, Blaney and the others yet to guarantee themselves a starting spot as the best two finishing 'go or go home' will lock themselves into a start spot based on their finishing position in their Duel.