FONTANA, Calif. (AP) – Carl Edwards led a Roush Racing sweep of the top four spots in Saturday’s qualifying for the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at California Speedway.

It was the first career pole for Edwards, one of six drivers competing for the final three spots in the Chase for the championship.

“I’m not the greatest qualifier and I’m learning a lot,” said Edwards, who has won two races in his first full season in Cup racing. “I’m really excited to get to start up front in a race that we really need to run well in.”

The 26-year-old Edwards, driving in only his 38th race in NASCAR’s top series, turned a lap of 185.061 mph Saturday to beat out Mark Martin’s 184.833 for the top spot in today’s Sony HD 500. They were followed by the Roush Fords of Kurt Busch at 184.403 and Greg Biffle at 184.370.

The fifth Roush entry, Matt Kenseth, coming off his first win of the year last week in Bristol, qualified 23rd.

With only two races remaining before the start of the 10-race Chase, which looks as if it will include only the drivers in the top 10 in points, eighth-place Edwards is only 84 points ahead of 13th-place Elliott Sadler, the defending race winner.

In between are Ryan Newman, three-time California winner Jeff Gordon, Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.

“I want to win this race,” Edwards said. “But, at the same time, I’m really aware of the points situations. To come out of here and distance myself on the good of 10th place would be awesome.”

Gordon, who had been fastest in practice both Friday and Saturday, qualified sixth. He has a tenuous hold on 10th place, with Kenseth just 11 points behind, McMurray 12 back and Sadler 34 behind.

Sadler will start Sunday’s race 15th, with Newman 28th and McMurray 40th.

Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the only other drivers with only slim mathematical chances of squeezing into the top 10 in the next two races, were also far off the pace, qualifying 37th and 41st, respectively.

Jon Wood, the son of Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood, qualified 39th while filling in for Ricky Rudd, whose father died Tuesday. Rudd was expected to arrive in California later Saturday and will race on Sunday, starting from the rear of the 43-car field because of the driver change.

“With what happened to Ricky’s dad and the circumstances leading up to it, I don’t think anybody is really in the right frame of mind,” the younger Wood said. “I just kind of wanted to make sure I didn’t wreck it for him. I was just there filling in a space that needed to be filled.”

AP-ES-09-03-05 1925EDT

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