DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—For the first time during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, Carl Edwards was able to crack a relieved smile.
Edwards had just run a lap at 202.315 mph in the first round of group knockout qualifying for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX). Third fastest in time trials — all rounds combined — Edwards earned a guaranteed starting spot in the 57th edition of the Great American Race.
Edwards entered 2015 with a new team, Joe Gibbs racing, but without 2014 owner points that would have given him a provisional slot in the 500, had he failed to advance through time trials or Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona (7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Small wonder it was a happy, relaxed Edwards who took the dais in the Daytona media center after Sunday’s qualifying session.
“We had not really talked about it much publicly,” Edwards said. “There were a lot of meetings and a lot of anxiety over the fact that we could possibly miss the Daytona 500. I think we’ve had four or five meetings trying to come up with a strategy for qualifying.
“To have the third-fastest time of the day — I believe we are locked into the show, which is huge, to say the least. With (sponsor) Arris coming on board in such a huge way — Stanley (Tools) — it was going to be really tough to explain to them if we had trouble in the qualifiers.
“Now we can go out, be aggressive (in the Duels), have fun and try to start up front.”