Edwards will be starting from the inside front-row position for the 12th time in his eight years competing in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's top stock-car racing level, but it is the Columbia, Mo., driver's first pole in eight starts in the Daytona 500. Edwards, who finished second in last year's 500 to first-time winner Trevor Bayne, is looking for his first Cup victory at Daytona International Speedway.
Not having won before in the Sprint Cup curtain-raiser at Daytona is something that would appear to be in Edwards' favor. The past 10 Daytona 500s were won by 10 different drivers, each recording his first 500 win.
The three-wide front row for Sunday's Great American Race will consist of Roush-Fenway Ford teammates Edwards and Greg Biffle, with reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart on the outside in the No, 3 slot in his No. 14 Chevrolet. The first position on the second row (No. 4 on the grid) is also a Roush car, the No, 17 Ford, driven by 2009 Daytona 500 winner Mat Kenseth.
While winning the pole is the goal of every race driver, especially for an event as big as the Daytona 500, it has been a far from favorable starting position for past pole winners in the Great American Race. Only nine drivers have won from the pole position in the history of the Daytona 500. The last driver to do so was Dale Jarrett in 2000. Jeff Gordon is the only one of the current active drivers to win NASCAR's biggest race of the year after starting in the No. 1 spot on the grid.
Edwards and Biffle were awarded the first two starting positions for Sunday's race at Daytona after recording the fastest times in last Sunday's qualifying session. Stewart claimed the final spot on the front row by winning one of the two Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday. Kenseth won the second Gatorade race, earning him the fourth qualifying spot behind Stewart.
The Gatorade Duel victory was the 17th for Stewart in a race event at Daytona, placing him second all-time to the late Dale Earnhardt, who had 34 wins at Daytona International Speedway. Despite his overall success at historic Daytona, Stewart has never taken the checkered flag in the Daytona 500 in 13 tries.
"Obviously, the fact that we've won 17 times here and not won on the right day is proof it's good momentum, but it's no guarantee," Stewart told reporters following Thursday's qualifying session. "It's a long race on Sunday, and a lot can happen."
A couple of other notable events from Thursday's qualifying: Danica Patrick, in her first qualifying trial for a Sprint Cup race crashed into the outer barrier on the final curve in the final lap of the 60-lap Gatorade Duel 1 and finished 16th out of the 25-car field. The former IndyCar driver will be running in her first Sprint Cup race on Sunday and her first Daytona 500. She will be starting in the back of the pack, however, in a backup car as a result of her crash in qualifying. Jamie McMurray got a piece of Aric Amirola's car, who in turn shoved Patrick's No, 10 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, who spun out at full speed and slammed into the wall.
By winning the Gatorade Duel 2 event, Kenseth delivered Jack Roush his first win in the Daytona 500 qualifying event in his 25 years of NASCAR team ownership. Don't feel too bad for Roush, though. He won the Great American Race with Kenseth in 2009.
Clint Bowyer, the other local-area driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aside from Edwards, finished 15hth in his Daytona 500 qualifying race and will start 30th on Sunday. Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., is with a new team in 2012. He left Richard Childress Racing after last season after eight seasons at RCR and signed on with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Kurt Busch, driving for Phoenix Racing in Sprint Cup this season, has finished second three times in 11 starts at the Daytona 500 and in the top five six times. Moreover, the elder of the Busch brothers has 10 top-five finishes in 22 races at Daytona. But the Big One has eluded him. In fact, Busch has led the most laps (372) of all drivers who have never won at a restrictor-plate track. His average finish in his past 10 Daytona races has been 11th. Bush will start his 12th Daytona 500 on the tenth row alongside Patrick and Bowyer.
Daytona 500 Numbers Of Note - The reigning Sprint Cup champion has won the Daytona 500 five times: Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (1960).
6 - Hendrick Motorsports has won the Daytona 500 six times, second only to Petty Enterprises with nine.
8 - The winner of the Daytona 500 has finished outside of the top ten in the final points standings in eight of the past 11 years.
8 - Each of the past five Daytona 500 winners has led less than eight laps in their victory.
129 - Number of consecutive races it has been since Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of the 2004 Daytona 500, won his last Sprint Cup race. His last victory was June 2008 at Michigan International Speedway.