AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) – It was a good day for Indianapolis 500 winners in NASCAR qualifying.

Sam Hornish Jr. joined Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya as former Indy 500 winners to earn a spot in Sunday’s Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway – marking the first time in NASCAR history three former Indy champions will be in the field.

Carl Edwards won his first pole in almost two years Friday by turning a fast lap of 132.773 mph around the mile oval in his Roush Fenway Ford.

Martin Truex Jr., who had the pole last week in Texas and finished third, qualified second at 132.758.

It was Edwards’ first pole start since Homestead in 2005.

“Three-thousandths of a second is a little tough to swallow,” Truex said.

“That’s the third time we’ve been second by about that much this year.”

Jeff Gordon, who trails Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 30 points in the Nextel Cup standings, qualified third under overcast conditions in the desert. Gordon is a three-time Phoenix pole winner and won here in April to tie the late Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s career wins list.

“I’m happy that we’re third,” Gordon said.

“We’d rather be first, but I’m glad I’m not 10th or 15th or further back.

“With this car at this race track, it just seems like unless you’ve really found something good, it’s hard to come up through the field.”

Johnson will start sixth.

Those masters of the open-wheeled Indy machines won’t be starting near the front, though.

Hornish, a three-time IndyCar Series champion, will be 26th on the starting grid in his Nextel Cup debut.

He failed to qualify in his first six attempts, and his performance came one day after he told The Associated Press he will switch full-time to NASCAR next season.

Villeneuve, who made his Cup debut at Talladega last month, will start 27th. Montoya, in his first full NASCAR season, took the 14th position.

Truex found the presence of the Indy drives flattering.

“I think it says a lot about NASCAR and how great of a series we have,” Truex said. “I think it says a lot for the competition and all the competitors here.”

Edwards, too, welcomed the international drivers.

“The Nextel Cup Series is so tough,” he said, “if they can’t do the job, they won’t be here for very long.”


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