LAS VEGAS — Carl Edwards would gladly stop doing his trademark victory back flips in exchange for a NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Edwards jumped off his car nine times last year, including a year ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to lead stock-car racing’s Sprint Cup Series in wins.
But when the season ended, the driver of the No. 99 Ford was still 69 points behind Jimmie Johnson, who had won seven races himself and captured his third consecutive Cup title.
“We won a lot of races and that was great, but we didn’t win the championship,” Edwards said Friday before qualifying 16th for Sunday’s Shelby 427 in Las Vegas.
Edwards said his two goals this season are making the Chase for the Cup, NASCAR’s late-season playoff with the top 12 drivers in points, and then winning the championship.
“I don’t care how many races we win doing it, as long as we can achieve those goals,” he said.
Kyle Busch, with eight wins last year, smashed the track qualifying record Friday to win the pole for the second consecutive year despite gusty winds from the north that created a stiff head wind on the back straightaway of the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval.
Busch turned a lap of 185.995 mph, breaking the record of 184.856 mph set by Kasey Kahne two years ago.
However, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team had changed engines on his No. 18 Toyota before qualifying, so under NASCAR rules he’ll have to drop to the rear of the 43-car field when the race starts.
His older brother Kurt Busch qualified second at 185.707 mph in his Penske Racing Dodge, and it was the first time that the brothers, who grew up in Las Vegas, qualified one-two in a Cup race.
“It’s cool that we were both up there,” Kyle said. “Got to give thanks to the team. We just went out there and sailed a lap as fast as I thought I needed to go.”
Edwards started the season quietly. He was 18th in the opener at Daytona and finished seventh last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
“Finishing in front of Jimmie (who finished ninth at Fontana), that made me feel a little better about it,” said Edwards, 29. But he acknowledged that after last year, not yet winning this season “feels like an eternity. But I think we’re going to be OK.”
Johnson also is trying to regain his winning form.
After finishing 31st at Daytona, Johnson led 74 laps in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday before succumbing to handling problems. He’s 19th in the point standings.
Johnson won the Las Vegas race for three consecutive years (2005 through 2007) before Edwards snapped the streak last year, when Johnson struggled all day and finished 29th.
“I’m excited to be back,” Johnson said before qualifying third for Sunday’s race behind the Busch brothers. “I’m trying to forget about last year’s race.”
Matt Kenseth, Edwards’ teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, won both the Daytona and Fontana races this month and is trying to become the first NASCAR Cup driver in history to win the first three races of the season. But he qualified poorly and will start 40th Sunday.
“It would be huge, obviously, to win this week, but every race is difficult to win,” said Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion.
Kenseth is a two-time winner at Las Vegas, but the victories in 2003 and 2004 came before the speedway was overhauled after the 2006 season. The changes included repaving the track and raising the corner banking to 20 degrees from 12 to promote faster and closer racing.