Needless to say, Carl Edwards loved the new qualifying format for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race.
Benefiting from a high-speed trip down pit road and a quick pit stop during the unique three-lap regimen in Friday’s time trials, Edwards won the pole for the 29th running of NASCAR’s non-points all-star event.
With the pit road speed limit waived for the qualifying session, Edwards ran three laps—including a mandatory four-tire pit stop—in one minute 51.297 seconds, averaging 145.556 mph.
The 15th of 19 drivers to make a qualifying attempt, Edwards knocked Kurt Busch (144.398 mph) off the provisional pole. Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the second fastest average speed (144.398 mph) but drew a five-second penalty for a loose lug nut and will start 13th, leaving Busch on the front row beside Edwards.
Greg Biffle will start third, followed by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, in an event that pays $1 million to the winner—and another potential $1 million to a driver who can win all five segments. The event will be contested in segments of 20, 20, 20, 20 and 10 laps.
“This is so unbelievable, because we tried so hard,” Edwards said. “This is such an exciting qualifying format. There’s so much pressure, and to get the pole—it’s spectacular. Our car was fast. Our pit crew was fast. It was awesome.
“This is the way we want to start this weekend. We want to win this thing. We want to win all $2 million, all the segments. It’s part of our plan… I vote we did this at every race track. It’s so cool. It’s a lot of fun.”
Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson was fourth out and first to blow the pit stop. Johnson screamed down pit road, but his No. 48 Chevrolet slid through his pit stall, forcing Johnson to back up before his crew could begin its work.
With a stop of more than 20 seconds, Johnson averaged 135.608 mph. A penalty for a loose lug nut added five seconds to his time and cut his average speed to 130.160 mph. Johnson will start 18th on Saturday night.
Kevin Harvick also slid through his pit stall, and had his time disallowed because his crew started service before the No. 29 Chevy was back in the box. But the miscue didn’t matter, given that an engine change after Friday’s practice will send Harvick to the rear of the field for the start of the race.
In a conventional two-lap qualifying session that preceded the Sprint All-Star Race time trials, Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for Saturday’s Sprint Showdown at 193.424 mph (27.918 seconds), edging Jamie McMurray (192.699 mph) for the top starting spot.
The top two finishers in the Showdown, which features a field of 23 cars this year, will transfer into the main event. Winless since 2007, Truex is a veteran of the Showdown, and he confessed to being envious of those who were exempt into the All-Star Race.
“I’m definitely jealous that I’m not out there tonight,” Truex said after winning the pole. “For an event like this, it’s neat to see them mix it up and do something different because it’s an all-star race. There’s not points here. You don’t have to go by the book.
“This is the weekend where you want to throw out the rules and make new stuff up, which generally they like to do.”
Kansas native Clint Bowyer had a decent day of All-Star race qualifying. He will roll off 6th on Saturday night.
"Just needed a little bit -- I'm a second off or something. Our lap could have been better, I could have been better coming onto pit road -- all those little things add up to being so close," said Bowyer.
"Pretty exciting deal and pretty wild. Let me tell you, that's about all you want coming onto pit road at one of these mile-and-a-half tracks like that. I'm glad that they cleared pit road because I just knew that somehow I was going to climb over that pit road wall and make an embarrassment out of all of us, but thankfully I got through it and so far not so bad."