With pole win, Edwards aims to vault higher in Chase
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — A year ago, Carl Edwards started 33d in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International and finished third. This time he’ll start at the front.
Edwards turned a lap of 124.432 miles per hour in 70.882 seconds yesterday to easily outdistance Jamie McMurray’s lap of 123.814 m.p.h. in 71.236 seconds. It was just the fifth pole in 215 starts for Edwards, his first on a road course in Cup competition, and it was fast. Edwards was just a few ticks off Jeff Gordon’s 2003 track record of 124.58 m.p.h. in 70.7979 seconds.
“Unbelievable! I can’t tell you how much that helps our team,’’ Edwards said. “[Crew chief] Bob [Osborne] said, ‘P1.’ I thought he said, ‘21.’ That’s a great lap. We’re just enjoying the wave we’re riding. We’re making a comeback.’’
Edwards has put together four straight finishes of seventh or better, including a second at Chicagoland and a third a week ago at Pocono, to surge to 10th in the points standings with only five races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup title. Only the top 12 drivers qualify for the Chase.
“It feels good,’’ said Edwards, whose last pole was two years ago at Bristol. “You guys know how we’ve struggled. This last month we’ve been in going in the right direction. It means a lot to all the folks who stuck with us. Nobody’s giving up. If I can just get a good start, keep our car up front, race in clean air, keep the fenders on it, I think the qualifying effort will pay off.’’
Juan Pablo Montoya will go off third, followed by AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch. Five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Scott Speed, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch round out the top 10.
Marcos Ambrose, who finished second to Stewart in last year’s race, will start 11th. Gordon, a four-time Watkins Glen winner, qualified 16th, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 41st.
Biffle was fastest in both of Friday’s practices. Coming off his win at Pocono, his first of the season, and sitting 11th in the standings, Biffle said he decided to look at the big picture.
“I ran a bit conservative,’’ Biffle said. “Getting up to speed, I noticed that the car was a little bit freer than what it was yesterday. I figured I could back off just a little bit, run a good, solid lap rather than make a mistake, be in the ditch, and have to come from the back. I’m really thinking about the Chase right now.’’
The top four cars in the Hendrick Motorsports stable struggled in Friday’s practices despite feedback from Gordon, who took part in a tire test in June and thought he had brought some valuable data back to the shop. Only Johnson found enough speed to crack the top 10.
“With the tire test that Jeff was a part of, it’s just kind of mind-boggling that we could have been that far off,’’ said Johnson, who notched the first road-course victory at Sonoma in June.
Gordon, winless at the track since 2001, qualified at 122.783 m.p.h., a vast improvement from practice.
“I felt some real positive things in the car,’’ said Gordon, who has made 602 straight Cup starts. “The car turned a little bit better than I was expecting. I saw some things that have some real potential. I’m very happy about that. It’s certainly a big gain from yesterday.’’
Ambrose, still seeking that breakthrough Cup victory, started from the pole yesterday and won the Nationwide race for the third straight time. He finished second to Stewart a year ago in the Cup race and third to Kyle Busch in 2008 after starting last.
“I was a little conservative [in practice],’’ said Ambrose. “I got some wheel spin, but I’m excited.’’
Ambrose dominated the Zippo 200, leading 60 of the 82 laps in beating Joey Logano by 2.8 seconds.
“This is the most satisfying win I’ve ever had,’’ Ambrose said.