Carl Edwards carried momentum from his second place in the Daytona 500 by setting a new track record in Saturday's qualifying at Phoenix.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader set a time of 26.224sec at an average speed of 137.279mph, beating the mark that he had set back in November when the series last raced at the one-mile oval. Roush Fenway racer Edwards got a perfect exit out of Turn 4 on his second lap, improving on the previous benchmark – also under the existing track record – of Red Bull's Kasey Kahne.
Penske's Kurt Busch, who was last on the track for his run due to the new procedure that sets the running order based on the fastest practice times, came closest to beating Edwards but ended up short by 32 thousandths. However, for the second week in a row, he will get to start from the front row, ahead of Kahne's Red Bull Toyota and the Joe Gibbs Racing Camry of Busch's brother Kyle.
The planned reconfiguration of the track, which is set to debut when the series returns during the Chase, means that Edwards' mark will remain the record for the current low-banked layout, as variable banking is being introduced along with a new surface. Cool track temperatures and a new tire selection from Goodyear contributed to 15 drivers running under the previous track benchmark.
"This new qualifying format is a little stressful," said Edwards. "I had to watch Kyle go, and I know how fast he was, and then Kurt was screaming fast yesterday, so he had me stressed out a little bit. It's fortunate we were able to sit on the pole. I love this racetrack. I know all the drivers love this racetrack. It's really fun to drive on and starting up front is, hopefully, going to make the race a lot simpler.
"Track position is huge here, especially on the short run. I think we'll have that first pit stall. I'm assuming that's what [crew chief] Bob [Osborne] will pick and that really helped us a lot in the fall to have a good pit stall because I would lose a couple [of] spots, and Kurt and I actually raced a ton, and he would take off and leave us, but we had the advantage of the pit stall and sometimes we'd come back out front and he'd pass me again. But having that pit stall means a lot and it will hopefully help us throughout the whole race."
Regan Smith also carried his speed from Daytona, rounding out the top five at the wheel of the Furniture Row Chevrolet, ahead of Gibbs' Joey Logano. Both Penske Dodges were in the top 10 as Brad Keselowski held pole provisionally before dropping down the time sheets to ninth-fastest.
Denny Hamlin, who dominated at Phoenix last autumn before fuel calculations came into play, was 12th, while two-time winner at the track Kevin Harvick was 17th-fastest. Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, the Cup driver with the best record at the track, was only 28th-quickest.
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was 37th running in his back-up car, after crashing his primary Wood Brothers Ford on his first practice lap on Friday due to a suspected brake problem.
Casey Mears was the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in 27th at the wheel of Germain Racing's Toyota, while Daytona 500 upset qualifier Brian Keselowski was slowest in his K-Automotive Dodge, thus failing to make the field for Sunday's 500km event.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 26.224s
2. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 26.256s + 0.032s
3. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 26.259s + 0.035s
4. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 26.281s + 0.057s
5. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevy 26.283s + 0.059s
6. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 26.288s + 0.064s
7. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 26.314s + 0.090s
8. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevy 26.321s + 0.097s
9. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 26.322s + 0.098s
10. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 26.340s + 0.116s
11. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford 26.346s + 0.122s
12. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 26.358s + 0.134s
13. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 26.362s + 0.138s
14. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 26.382s + 0.158s
15. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 26.392s + 0.168s
16. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 26.407s + 0.183s
17. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 26.448s + 0.224s
18. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 26.459s + 0.235s
19. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 26.471s + 0.247s
20. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 26.515s + 0.291s
21. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 26.523s + 0.299s
22. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevy 26.529s + 0.305s
23. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 26.547s + 0.323s
24. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 26.553s + 0.329s
25. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 26.556s + 0.332s
26. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota 26.557s + 0.333s
27. Casey Mears Germain Toyota 26.563s + 0.339s
28. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 26.569s + 0.345s
29. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 26.574s + 0.350s
30. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 26.574s + 0.350s
31. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 26.621s + 0.397s
32. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 26.680s + 0.456s
33. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford 26.715s + 0.491s
34. Michael McDowell HP Toyota 26.729s + 0.505s
35. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 26.731s + 0.507s
36. Mike Skinner FAS Lane Ford 26.811s + 0.587s
37. Landon Cassill Germain Toyota 26.856s + 0.632s
38. JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 26.857s + 0.633s
39. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 26.909s + 0.685s
40. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 26.988s + 0.764s
41. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet 27.288s + 1.064s
42. Tony Raines Front Row Ford 27.343s + 1.119s
43. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 26.996s + 0.772s
Did not qualify:
Brian Keselowski K-Automotive Dodge 27.431s + 1.207s