DAYTONA BEACH — Carl Edwards had an inkling he might have a pole-winning car at Daytona International Speedway.
He was right.
With a lap at 194.738 mph (46.216 seconds) Edwards outran Greg Biffle (194.087 mph) for the top spot in Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying session, as the Roush Fenway Racing teammates locked themselves into the front row for next Sunday's 54th running of the Great American Race.
Edwards, the fifth driver to make a qualifying attempt, earned the 11th pole of his career. He's also the first qualifier for the 2013 Budweiser Shootout after NASCAR and the speedway returned to the traditional eligibility criteria for the season-opening exhibition event.
"I appreciate (crew chief) Bob Osborne and all the work he's done," Edwards said. "(Engine builder) Doug Yates — the engines are so important in this.
"It's neat to come down here and to be so fast and to really have fun qualifying here. We've struggled so much in the past, and so many guys have put so much effort in this offseason."
Biffle was not as thrilled.
"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "I hate the wind. I guess if you're out sailing, it's good. It was singing down the back, but coming down the front I just got a big gust of wind coming off of (Turn) 4 … I knew I didn't have it."
Under the quirky format peculiar to Daytona 500 qualifying, only the fastest two cars in time trials know where they'll start next Sunday — on the front row. The rest of the drivers will start based on their finishes in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 races.
Last year's pole-sitter, Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports, had the strongest Chevrolet in the field, but his third-place qualifying effort at 194.028 mph earned him only a front-row starting spot in Thursday's Duel.
"The guys did a great job on putting the car out there for qualifying," Earnhardt said. "We weren't really seeing that kind of speed in the car (Saturday). We made a lot of changes, and I'm sure we got some help — a good push of wind down the back straightaway as well.
"But the guys did a great job. … They took this thing apart several times this winter, trying to make it as good as they could, and we can't appreciate their help enough."
Danica Patrick, who has a guaranteed starting spot by virtue of an owner points deal between Stewart Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, qualified 30th for her Sprint Cup debut. When she takes the green flag next Sunday, Patrick will become the third woman to start the Daytona 500, joining Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson.
"To say I wasn't nervous at all is a lie," she said. "Of course I was, a little bit. I want to do a good job."
Patrick's car was spewing water long before she completed her second lap at an average speed of 191.738 mph. Race strategist Greg Zipadelli expressed some concerns about the early overheating.
But by and large Patrick, the former IndyCar star making her first Sprint Cup start, was satisfied with her qualifying effort.
"It felt fine," she said. "It got a little hot on the water at the end, but other than that … everybody did a good job. Everybody worked really, really hard on the cars."
Marcos Ambrose was fourth-fastest, followed by Casey Mears, as Fords claimed four of the top five spots, breaking a Hendrick stranglehold on qualifying at restrictor-plate tracks. Hendrick cars won all four poles at plate tracks last year.
Edwards won his pole without Osborne, who missed the weekend events at Daytona after the death of his father. Chip Bolin filled in for Osborne and helped Edwards to his first career pole at Daytona.