By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
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 pole 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.
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.
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.”