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Edwards drives off with pole

Teammate Biffle takes second spot

Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle (left) and Carl Edwards celebrate their sweep of the top positions in the Daytona 500. Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle (left) and Carl Edwards celebrate their sweep of the top positions in the Daytona 500. (Brian Blanco/Reuters)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / February 20, 2012
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Call it a shot across the bow.

It came in the form of an unmistakable message delivered by drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing, and Ford in yesterday’s pole qualifications for the 54th running of the Daytona 500 next Sunday.

The highly motivated Edwards served notice to his NASCAR competitors that he is prepared to contend not only for a Daytona 500 victory but also a Sprint Cup championship, titles that narrowly eluded him last year. He led a Roush Fenway and Ford sweep of the front row by capturing his first 500 pole in windy conditions.

“We did great today,’’ said owner Jack Roush. “Doug Yates and the guys in the engine shop did a nice job. Robbie Reiser and the folks in the chassis and body shop built nice cars, and the teams prepared them well. We worked all winter getting ready for this. It’s just the beginning.’’

Edwards, who was runner-up to 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne here last season and lost a tiebreaker to Cup champion Tony Stewart in an intense Chase battle, cemented his spot at the front of Daytona’s 43-car grid when he drove his No. 99 Ford Fusion to a lap of 194.738 miles per hour on the 2.5-mile tri-oval - the fastest pole-winning speed since Jeff Gordon’s 195.067 m.p.h. in 1999.

“This is our second pole in a row, so it feels nice to pick up right where we left off,’’ said Edwards, who also captured the pole in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I’ve been telling everybody - it seems like every media question and all anybody says is, ‘How great would it have been to have one more point and how did you deal with that [disappointment] this offseason?’

“I think this is nice to come here and show everyone that, hey, it isn’t just talk. Everybody at Roush Fenway went back and worked hard and kept their heads down and dug.’’

The fruits of Roush Fenway’s offseason labors were evident when Biffle’s No. 16 Ford swept both practice sessions Saturday. After Edwards topped the speed charts in pole qualifying, Biffle went out and joined him on the front row with a lap of 194.087.

It marked the seventh time since 1985 that Ford drivers swept the front row. It is the third time since 2007 that Fords will start at the front of the grid.

“To have our cars on the pole, and to finally get back here, this is the goal every year to come down here and sit on the pole, but this year, it’s just really special,’’ said Yates.

The other drivers who got starting spots in qualifying were Bayne, David Stremme, and Tony Raines as the fastest non-exempt qualifiers.

Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, a pair of 150-mile heats, will determine the Nos. 3-35 starting positions.

Bayne celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday by qualifying his No. 21 Ford fastest among the non-exempt drivers with a lap of 193.615, which was ninth. He was among six Ford drivers to qualify among the top 10.

“I felt pretty good about the lap,’’ Bayne said. “Last year, I would have been jumping up and down about qualifying in the top 10, but I really thought we had a shot at the pole today as good as our car was [Saturday]. It’s just the wind was against us. Now we’re back to the same position we were in last year. We started the Duel knowing we were locked in and it was just wherever we finished, and now we’re back right there, so I’m ready for it.’’

Clint Bowyer, now driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, finished 22d in qualifying but his car failed inspection. He will have to start last in Thursday’s qualifying race, but that’s the sole penalty his team will face.

Danica Patrick, the former IndyCar Series star turned stock car driver, qualified for her Daytona 500 debut well off Edwards’s blistering pace, going 29th fastest in 191.738. She was guaranteed a starting spot by virtue of the owner’s points her No. 10 car accumulated last season, placing it 33d among the exempted top 35.

Edwards, however, needed no such exemption to make the field.

“I thank everybody who has built these racecars,’’ Edwards said. “And for not letting the disappointment of not winning that championship . . . not letting that slow us down, but instead giving us real motivation.’’

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