DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Carl Edwards walked into the media center, raised both hands over his head and said, “I’m in the show.”
In NASCAR’s biggest show, to be more precise.
Edwards, who moved from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing after last season, locked his No. 19 Toyota into the upcoming Daytona 500 by recording the third-highest speed during pole qualifying Sunday.
It was a huge relief for Edwards, who didn’t have the luxury of falling back on owner points from last year. Edwards finished ninth in points last season, which likely would have made him a lock for “The Great American Race.” But switching teams left him needing to get in on speed or by racing his way in during the twin qualifiers Thursday.
“A little nervous, to say the least,” Edwards said. “We had not really talked about it much publicly. There were a lot of meetings and a lot of anxiety over the fact that we could possibly miss the Daytona 500. I think we’ve had four or five meetings trying to come up with a strategy for qualifying.”
His anxiety level rose after seeing Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley and Bobby Labonte wreck their Daytona 500 cars early in the first qualifying round.
By then, Edwards had already turned a lap that averaged 202.315 mph. Only Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were faster during the three qualifying rounds. Jamie McMurray also qualified for the Daytona 500 on speed.
But Edwards was the biggest story since he was the most notable driver without owner points.
“If you look at how everything came together, I think the realization or the understanding that this is how we were going to qualify, that’s the point at which we all went, ‘Whoa, this could go extremely bad,'” Edwards said. “From then on, it’s been just a total mess of anxiety trying to figure out.
“It’s a bunch of if-thens. If we would have qualified poorly or had a wreck today, the qualifying race would have been different. If there was weather, what do we do? There were so many variables. This is all put to rest now, but, man, that was not fun to think about.”
The 35-year-old Edwards is a two-time Sprint Cup runner-up who has 23 wins since replacing Jeff Burton midway through the 2004 season. He moved to JGR after more than a decade at Roush Fenway, joining a driver lineup that features former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Gibbs hopes expanding to a four-car team, especially with Edwards behind the wheel, will pay dividends.
Gibbs could have worked out a deal to secure Edwards carry-over points for the season opener, but the team opted to take its chances in NASCAR’s premier event.
The gamble worked.
“We spent I can’t tell you how much time going through all this and the rules, how you qualify, what could happen if you rain out,” Gibbs said. “There were some questions, to be quite truthful, I’m not sure anybody had the answer to. You can wind up with all kinds of things going on.
“But we kind of felt like there were some things we could have done on our team, but we didn’t think it would be fair to the other teams. So we made our decision. … But you’re just praying that things go your way.”
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