Carl Edwards has won his first pole via qualifying in more than a year, but not without a bit of nerve-wracking pre-qualifying drama.
Early Friday, a few hours before qualifying began, Edwards went for a run and locked his keys in his rental car. What to do? The rental car company was no help. After some scheming and plotting, Edwards and his PR agent found a local used-car dealership, coaxed out a mechanic who had a few coathangers and a crowbar, and broke into the car.
"It kept my mind off the stress of qualifying," Edwards laughed. "It was a little adventure. Jimmy (Fennig, crew chief) says I should go running more often. If he had known how close I was to not making it back I don’t think he would say that.”
So who was this mysterious savior-with-a-crowbar who helped one of NASCAR's finest drivers break into a car? "I don’t want to call the guy out," Edwards said. "I mean he did use a crowbar to break into the car. I didn’t ask him how he knew how to do that so well."
The irony of a NASCAR driver being unable to drive wasn't lost on Carl. "I am just furthering the belief that drivers can’t take care of themselves," he said with a wry grin. "I have people coming to help me all the time, so that isn’t good."
Once he actually drove his company car, Edwards turned a lap of 202.452 mph at Michigan International Speedway, taking his first pole on speed in 49 races and setting himself up as the man to beat in Sunday's Quicken Loans 400. Michigan is one of Edwards' best tracks; he's won twice and finished in the top 10 a career-best 13 times there.
"I'm happy with that lap," Edwards said after his qualifying. "I don’t think I could go any faster if I ran it again."
Fortunately, he doesn't need to. He'll start on the front row alongside Kurt Busch, who's had an impressive recent run of speed. Busch has started first or second in four of the last six races. Rounding out the top five are Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola. Other notables: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12th, Tony Stewart 14th, Jimmie Johnson 17th.
"To be second, that’s qualifying, now we’ve just got to step into the race and that’s where we’ve got to close the deal," Busch said. "We haven’t been as strong as we’ve needed to be in the last section of the race, like after the last pit stop or with two pit stops to go, that’s where we have to find a little bit more improvement. But otherwise, these Furniture Row guys are phenomenal, and we’re knocking on the door.”
Michigan repaved the track in time for the start of the 2012 season, and drivers indicated that the dreaded "new track feel" is starting to fade.
"It's just going to continue to get better," Martin Truex Jr. said. "Last year, there was times you just felt like you were along for the ride. It was hard to do anything with what you had. ... Hopefully, the groove will widen out. It's pretty narrow right now."
"The new track is super fun to race on," said Edwards, not missing a chance to ladle out the praise. "The pavement seems like it has aged more in a year than a lot of new track surfaces have and hopefully we can keep developing a Goodyear tire and keep making it softer and softer to where it becomes the old Michigan here in a year or two. I think that is going to be awesome.”
Edwards joked that even though he's started on the pole several times this season, this would be the first one to actually count for next year's Sprint Unlimited race. (Others were via rainout.)
"There are a few things I like about racing at Michigan," Edwards said. "The first is that it is the site of my first Sprint Cup start, a huge day for me personally. I will never forget when they said ‘Gentlemen, start your engines.’ That was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever had in a race car."
And fortunately, you can't lock your keys in an NASCAR car.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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