WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- A year ago, Carl Edwards started 33rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International and finished third. This time he'll start at the front.
Edwards turned a lap of 124.432 mph in 70.882 seconds Saturday to easily outdistance Jamie McMurray's lap of 123.814 mph in 71.236 secs. It was just the fifth pole in 215 starts for Edwards, his first on a road course in Cup competition, and it was fast. Edwards was just a few ticks off Jeff Gordon's 2003 track record of 124.58 mph in 70.7979 secs.
"Unbelievable! I can't tell you how much that helps our team," Edwards said. "[Crew chief] Bob [Osborne] said P1. I thought he said 21. That's a great lap. We're just enjoying the wave we're riding. We're making a comeback."
And that should help team owner Jack Roush in his recovery from a plane crash 10 days ago. The 68-year-old Roush, who also received a boost last week with Greg Biffle's win at Pocono, is at the Mayo Clinic and will remain there indefinitely to treat facial injuries.
Edwards has put together four straight finishes of seventh or better, including a second at Chicagoland and a third a week ago at Pocono, to surge to 10th in the points standings with only five races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup title. Only the top 12 drivers qualify for the Chase.
"It feels good," said Edwards, whose last pole was two years ago at Bristol. "You guys know how we've struggled. This last month we've been in going in the right direction. It means a lot to all the folks who stuck with us -- AFLAC, Ford. Nobody's giving up. If I can just get a good start, keep our car up front, race in clean air, keep the fenders on it, I think the qualifying effort will pay off."
Marcos Ambrose, who finished second to Stewart in last year's race, will start 11th. Gordon, a four-time Watkins Glen winner, qualified 16th and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 41st.
Greg Biffle was fastest in both of Friday's practices. Coming off his win at Pocono, his first of the season, and sitting 11th in the standings, Biffle said he decided to look at the big picture.
"I ran a bit conservative," Biffle said. "Getting up to speed I noticed that the car was a little bit freer than what it was yesterday. I figured if I could back off just a little bit, run a good, solid lap rather than make a mistake, be in the ditch, and have to come from the back. I'm really thinking about the Chase right now."
The top four cars in the Hendrick Motorsports stable struggled in Friday's two practices despite feedback from Gordon, who took part in a Goodyear tire test in June and thought he had brought some valuable data back to the shop. Only Johnson found enough speed to crack the top 10 in qualifying.
"With the tire test that Jeff was a part of, it's just kind of mind-boggling that we could have been that far off," said Johnson, who notched the first road course victory of his career at Sonoma in June. "Making up ground, I hope we can make up enough before the race."
Gordon, winless at the storied track since 2001, qualified at 122.783 mph, a vast improvement from practice.
"I felt some real positive things in the car," said Gordon, who has made 602 straight Cup starts. "The car turned a little bit better than I was expecting. I saw some things that have some real potential. I'm very happy about that. It's certainly a big gain from yesterday. I'm excited about that."
Ambrose, still seeking that breakthrough Cup victory, started from the pole in Saturday's Nationwide race and was confident about Sunday. He finished second to Stewart a year ago in the Cup race and third to Kyle Busch in 2008 after starting last.
"I was a little conservative," said Ambrose, who handed that Sonoma victory to Johnson when he stalled his car under a late caution while leading and couldn't get it refired in time to keep pace. "I got some wheel spin but I'm excited. I feel like we're going to have a good car for Sunday. It's part of the sport. No matter where you are in the field, you've got to go."