Carl Edwards won his first pole in almost two years Friday by turning a fast lap of 132.773 mph around the mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway in his Roush Fenway Ford. Martin Truex Jr., who had the pole in last week’s Nextel Cup race in Texas and finished third, qualified second for Sunday’s race at 132.758.
It was Edwards’ first pole start since Homestead in 2005.
“Three-thousandths of a second is a little tough to swallow,” Truex said. “That’s the third time we’ve been second by about that much this year.”
Jeff Gordon, who trails Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 30 points in the Nextel Cup standings, qualified third under overcast conditions in the desert. Gordon is a three-time Phoenix pole winner and won here in April to tie the late Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s career wins list.
“I’m happy that we’re third,” Gordon said. “We’d rather be first, but I’m glad I’m not 10th or 15th or further back. With this car at this race track, it just seems like unless you’ve really found something good, it’s hard to come up through the field.”
Edwards, a Columbia native, is fifth in the standings, 357 points behind Johnson, who will start sixth Sunday,
The title can’t be mathematically clinched on Sunday, but Johnson can certainly put it out of reach. The record books indicate the celebration should already begin.
Since 1972, when NASCAR’s schedule moved into its current format, only two drivers have overcome margins of 30 or more points with two races to go. Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992, overcoming an 80-point deficit to Bill Elliott to win the title, and Dale Earnhardt rallied from 45 down to pass Mark Martin in 1990.
Johnson, with nine wins this season including three-straight, says he is quite comfortable with his position.
“At this stage of the game, you want to be leading,” Johnson said. “With the few races that we have left, I think it’s better to be on top and trying to control it if at all possible. Right now I’m glad to be leading. There’s not a lot of time left.”