Sports

Edwards wins Bristol pole, downplays talk of rivalry

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Carl Edwards doesn't appear to be overly eager to couch the 2008 Sprint Cup season as a two-man battle between himself and Kyle Busch - despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Edwards sped to the pole for Saturday night's Sharpie 500 in Friday's qualifying, looping this .533-mile oval at an average speed of 121.860. It's the first time all season Edwards has earned the No. 1 starting spot, and only the fourth time in his Cup career.

Edwards has won two of the past three Cup races, at Pocono and Michigan, and has five victories this season. Busch, who starts ninth after a lap at 120.550 mph, won for the eighth time this year the race in between, at Watkins Glen, and before that won three times in a four-race stretch ending July 12 at Chicagoland.

That means Edwards and Busch have combined to win six of the past eight races.

"I don't think it's going to be a two-man Chase, honestly," said Edwards, looking ahead to the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup that begins in three weeks at New Hampshire.

"I hope it is. It would be nice to just have to beat one guy. But there are so many good guys. ...Everyone has the potential to run really well and you can't count any competitors out."

Perhaps not.

Jimmie Johnson won at Indianapolis and is the two-time defending champion. But he's had issues in the past two races to stunt that momentum and qualified only 34th here Friday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton also have Chase slots all but locked up. But Earnhardt Jr. starts 40th Saturday night and has had only one top-10 finish in eight races since his only win of the season at Michigan in June. Burton won the race here earlier this year, but in 18 races since he's had only two top-fives and he'll start 18th.

Tony Stewart, still winless in 2008, starts 28th Saturday night and is at the top of a bulging bubble that has nine drivers who're more worried right now about which two of them won't even make the Chase than about how they might challenge for a championship.

Which brings us back to Edwards and Busch.

While Busch's lead is 222 points over Edwards right now, that will change when after the Chase reset. As it stands now, Busch would be 40 points ahead of Edwards when the playoff starts - but there are still three races for either to win and alter that equation.

It's not that Edwards would mind having a rivalry develop between himself and his No. 99 Ford team and Busch and his No. 18 Toyota group.

"Rivalries are good," he said. "But it's still too far out. We don't know how exactly this is all going to go. Personally, my rivalry every week is with the person who's in front of me. There's not enough time to focus on one guy because you have to worry about everyone else."

Busch isn't fanning any flames, either.

"Anybody can pop up at any time," he said. "Jimmie has a great shot of being there the whole time. ...Carl has been good all year long. He started the year out really strong. ...He has been there. We knew we were going to have our work cut out with him and we knew the 48 (Johnson) would catch up eventually.

"All we can do is win what we can. If he gets some wins, fine. If we get some, great. It all works out the way it does for whatever reason."

Things worked out in some interesting ways in Friday's qualifying.

David Reutimann ran 121.175 mph to earn the spot alongside Edwards on the front row. Three drivers in the go-or-go home category qualified in the top eight - Bill Elliott fifth, Ken Schrader seventh and A.J. Allmendinger eighth.

In the battle on the Chase bubble, Jeff Gordon came out of Friday in the best spot with a third-best qualifying lap at 121.121 mph. Gordon, ninth in the standings, will be joined on Row 2 by rookie Regan Smith.

Kevin Harvick, just ahead of Gordon in the standings, will start sixth Saturday night. Biffle, who is seventh, starts 14th, alongside Kasey Kahne, who is 11th in points. Matt Kenseth, 10th in points, starts back in 25th.

Denny Hamlin, who is in 12th right now, starts 21st. Clint Bowyer, one of two drivers just 26 points outside the current Chase cut, starts 22nd. The other driver tied for 13th is David Ragan, and though he qualified 27th he'll start at the rear of the field in a backup Ford after crashing as he completed his qualifying lap.

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