Edwards grabs pole for NASCAR finale

Carl Edwards (99) stops for a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 in...

Carl Edwards (99) stops for a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, North Carolina in this May 29, 2011 file photo. (REUTERS FILES/Chris Keane)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

HOMESTEAD, FLA. - The first shot across the bow in the final battle for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship was fired by Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team on Saturday afternoon at Homestead Miami Speedway.

In qualifying on Homestead’s 1.5-mile oval, Edwards won the pole after throwing down a lap of 175.467 m.p.h.

That puts him on the inside of Row 1 on the starting grid Sunday, 14 spots in front of his chief rival Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet team, who will start 15th after his fastest lap of 173.332 m.p.h.

Edwards will go into Sunday’s championship deciding Ford 400 with a razor-thin three-point lead over Stewart in a winner-take-all affair.

For the record Martin Truex Jr. qualified second in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota with a speed of 174.808 m.p.h., with Kasey Kahne third fastest in the No. 4 Red Bull Racing Toyota at 174.582 m.p.h.

But Edwards wasn’t taking his pole run as any kind of sign that he is now in the cat bird’s seat once the race starts.

That has to do with the fact that Homestead is a track where passing, while not easy, is certainly less difficult than at most of the 1.5-mile ovals that NASCAR races on.

“It is just one lap and I know it could have gone either way,” Edwards said. “If we were out there and qualified 43rd right now, it wouldn’t change the way I’m gonna approach this race.

“I’m here to do a job and to do it well and it truly doesn’t matter what’s said or what happens until that checkered flag falls.”

Edwards said if having the quickest qualifying laps has any real advantage it is that he gets to pick the No. 1 stall on pit road.

“The biggest thing is that pit stall selection,” he said. “That’s gonna be a big help the whole race.”

Edwards said he didn’t even pay attention to where Stewart qualified because he was too busy with his own performance.

“I guess the deal is we’ve still got to go run this race and I know how tough those guys can be, so I’m not counting anything yet,” he said. “We’re just gonna keep our heads down and work hard and go get the best (result) 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, we still have to go run this race and anything can happen.”

Stewart agrees that having the No. 1 pit stall will help Edwards, but he is not ready to hand over the win just because the No. 99 will start first.

“It is a luxury at this point; but don’t start etching his name on the trophy yet,” Stewart said. “Obviously, having that first pit box is a huge advantage in this sport.”

He reminded his team, however, that in two of his four wins during the year’s Chase he started 26th and 20th at Chicagoland and Martinsville, respectively.

“It would be nice to start on the front row right now, but we have proven time and time again, I mean, I have 13 poles in 13 years, and we have won 42 races,” he said. “We have proven that you do not have to do it from the pole.”

Stewart said he was actually surprised that the No. 99 team did not run more laps in race trim, but concentrated on qualifying.

“They’re either going to look like geniuses doing it or not,” he said. “We spent a lot of time trying to find the right combination for race trim.”

FINISH LINES

Word out of Indianapolis has Montreal’s Alex Tagliani driving next season for Brian Herta Autosport in a Lotus-powered Dallara DW12. Tagliani would move into the seat the late Dan Wheldon had last season when he won the Indianapolis 500. Tagliani is also rumoured to have a deal with Penske Racing to run at least two NASCAR Nationwide Series races next season ... Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Camping World Series championship in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Silverado after a 10th-place finish in the season finale at HMS. Dillon, 21, becomes the youngest champion in series history.


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