Edwards wins pole for showdown
Carl Edwards continued his Chase for the Sprint Cup strategy on Saturday by winning the pole for the Ford 400 — and forcing Tony Stewart to come after him.
Edwards’ qualifying lap of 175.467 mph gave him his third pole of the season, and his second at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
More important, Edwards’ lap was 0.372 seconds faster than that of Stewart, who will roll off 15th on Sunday, when the Sprint Cup Series championship will be decided.
Edwards goes into the race with a three-point lead over Stewart. One of the two will bring an end to Jimmie Johnson's record five-year run. Edwards seems ready.
“Awesome, guys, that is the way to come and perform,” Edwards gushed over the radio on his cool-down lap. “Good work today.”
The morning went according to plan. Edwards’ first lap of the day was his fastest in practice and second quickest on the speed chart. He posted 49 laps in the first session.
After three laps in Happy Hour, Edwards topped the chart before running over debris and cutting a right rear tire. That’s when Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne elected to park the No. 99 Ford and save their best set of tires for qualifying.
Edwards was comfortable with the balance of the car and he believed when Osborne said the car was fine.
As Edwards climbed from the car following the pole-winning lap, he just smiled. He was satisfied with the lap and “happy” to be spending the afternoon in a race car.
For Edwards, a student of the sport — and a quick learner — going through the routine of a mock championship run (the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing was still eligible for the owner’s title) in Nationwide, provided the perfect dress rehearsal for Sunday’s showdown with Stewart.
"It’s important and it’s neat because it’s kind of a little bit of practice for [Sunday]," Edwards said.
“It lets me go through all the motions — the emotions and the motions — of competing against the best guys out there, and it’s a good practice run for us.”
Edwards didn’t miss a step as he strolled to the drivers’ meeting with his Roush Nationwide teammates Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne in tow. He took his seat next to his rivals for the NNS owner’s title — Denny Hamlin and Jason Ratcliff of Joe Gibbs Racing — and instigated a little joking and jawing.
But Edwards himself has desperately tried to ignore any outside chatter. He hasn’t “read one piece of media in weeks” or listened to negative sources.
“That doesn’t do me any good,” Edwards insisted. “I’m just going in and racing, and at the end of the day, really, this is just racing. Whatever happens out there is gonna happen, and all the worrying, talking, wondering — all that stuff — isn’t gonna make me faster, it can only make me slower, so I’m just gonna go and do my job.”
After the Nationwide drivers meeting, Edwards returned to the media center for his pole-winning press conference prior to the start of the Nationwide race. He answered just four questions. He remained realistic as he acknowledged that “there were a lot of fast cars in practice.”
After losing two Cup championships, he knows all too well the biggest challenge still lies ahead.
“We still have to go out and win the race,” Edwards said. “I know how tough those guys can be, so I’m not counting anything yet. We’re just gonna keep our heads down and work hard and go get the best we can.
“If anything, this is just good for our morale and for everybody to go sleep easy tonight and know we’re gonna have a good day on pit road, know we’ll hopefully be able to run out front and not get caught up in anything. But, truly, I understand that we still have to go run this race, and anything can happen.”
Edwards retreated to a conference room to switch from his Sprint Cup uniform to his Nationwide uniform and sprinted for the No. 60 Ford. Again, he followed the plan. He led the most laps, nearly won the race, but locked down the owner’s title for Jack Roush in the Nationwide Series and finished third while Stenhouse captured the driver’s title.
Despite Edwards’ success behind the wheel, the experience was invaluable. Edwards gained seat time behind the wheel while his engineering staff collected data for Sunday’s Cup race.
“This was very good practice for me,” Edwards said. “It was very good practice. Especially there was one point where the 18 was in front of us and had to really bear down and go for it there on one of those restarts, and that was neat.
“And we also made a lot of adjustments on the car. I got to feel the adjustments. I got to feel the track change a little bit as the sun went down. I was reminded of all the things you have to be careful of not to mess up. I didn’t hurt myself or break an arm or anything, so that was good, and I had a good time.”
For a moment during the race, Edwards did let his mind wander in the car. He contemplated whether he’d perform his signature backflip if he indeed won the Ford 300 — and thought better of it.
Instead, Edwards settled for a double burnout title celebration on the front stretch. If necessary, he will save the gymnastics for Sunday.
Roush thinks that, barring a catastrophic failure, the title is Edwards’ to lose. He believes that Stewart missed an opportunity to shut out his driver at Phoenix. Roush also believes Stewart opened the door for Edwards when the driver insisted he’s run over his own mother to win the title.
While Edwards insists he'll keep the racing clean on Sunday, he doesn’t have to think twice about how he will run Stewart if push comes to shove.
“Now that I know how he feels about it, I guess that’s pretty easy for me to decide,” Edwards said. “I think it was neat to hear Tony talk about it. It is a national championship. This is a huge deal. This is a big race.
“Let me put it this way: I would only do it if I thought the other guys would do it to me. That’s that.”