FORDS OUT FRONT -- It's no secret that 2013 has been a disappointing season for the Ford contingent, with 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup and Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle out of championship contention. But you'd never know that Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, where Edwards captured his second pole of the year and 13th of the season, and Keselowski wound up qualifying on the outside of Row 1.
Edwards took the pole for the AAA Texas 500 with a lap of 196.114 miles per hour in his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, followed by Keselowski, who ran 196.100 in the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford. Edwards' pole lap was just 0.002 seconds faster than Keselowski's. Both drivers benefitted from late qualifying draws.
Although Edwards is the all-time leader in race victories at TMS with three, this is his first pole.
"This is huge. My guys did a great job," Edwards said. "... It is awesome for Aflac and Ford and all of us. I have wanted the pole here so badly for so long, it is just really cool."
The most dramatic qualifying run was made by Jimmie Johnson, who kissed the wall with his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet en route to a lap of 195.943 mph, good for third on the grid. "Definitely a challenging lap for the Lowe's Chevrolet," said Johnson.
Paul Menard qualified fourth, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, and Hendrick teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
"It was actually pretty good," said Kenseth, who went out eighth in the qualifying session, directly after Johnson. "We picked up a fair amount from practice -- still fighting some of the same problems, but not nearly as bad. I really felt like we had a pretty clean lap."
POSITIVE SPIN -- Speaking of Brad Keselowski, the No. 2 qualifier at Texas -- and the No. 2 finisher in last year's AAA Texas 500 -- said he's choosing to focus on the positives of this season, instead of the fact that he isn't in contention to defend last year's championship title.
"I haven't looked at disappointments, I have looked at successes," said Keselowski. "If you spend your time focusing on your disappointments you will get more of them. I have been focusing on the successes and how to repeat them. Opportunities, successes, those moments where things have come together. You can't dwell on the things that haven't gone your way. You have to just acknowledge them and move on."
Then, somewhat cryptically, he hinted at big changes for 2014. "I do know that Ford will be stronger (in 2014)," Keselowski said. "There are some key moves going on behind the scenes that I can't really articulate but I am very confident that Penske Racing and Ford will be more successful."
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR -- Kyle Busch has had an outstanding season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning four races in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But he knows he's probably still going to come up a little short in his quest for his first championship in NASCAR's top division.
Coming into Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch is ranked fifth in points, which equals the highest points finish of his Cup career. Realistically, Busch has a solid shot to end up as high as third in points. But to knock off the two leaders, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, would require Busch to have three great races and those two to struggle badly, as well as Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvin to stumble, too. It is highly unlikely all four of the guys ahead of him will falter.
So Busch, who won from the pole in the spring Texas race, understandably has some mixed feeling. On the one hand, this is his best season since joining JGR in 2008, but it likely won't produce a title.
"We come out here this year and we were able to follow-up on last year's success," Busch said Friday at TMS. "Barring Kansas (where Busch was 34th), I think we've done a really nice job ... We've run a lot better this year than in years past, that's for certain. Apparently there's still a lot more room for improvement."
Busch, who qualified fifth for Sunday's race, knows he needs the guys ahead of him to falter to get back in the race.
"Obviously we're going to have to have some luck on our side and the other guys aren't going to be able to have luck on their side," Busch said. "If you have bad luck with the front two (Kenseth and Johnson) then that's going to bring five guys back into it, I feel like. It's going to be an even tighter race. That's what the fans want to see, probably the media wants to see and what I want to see, but I bet you the front two don't."
DANICA DEVELOPING -- Without question, it's been a frustrating NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie season for Danica Patrick, who is 28th in points with three races left in the season. But Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, Patrick said she's making progress.
"I feel like the rookie year I've had has been actually similar to Nationwide, to be honest," Patrick said. "I wasn't super-fast figuring out how to go fast. When I figured out how to go faster, it was riddled with bad luck, things happening and silly mistakes. Then come the end of the year I started to get it together, it did happen. A lot of that happened this year. I'd like to be running better at this point."
Patrick said one reason for her struggles is that Stewart-Haas Racing already is working on some 2014 setups. She qualified 30th for Sunday's AAA Texas 500.
"We have been making improvements but at the same time come the end of the year, because we've been looking ahead to next year, we've also been taking bigger chances," Patrick said. "We're trying different things with the car that we haven't tested because we need to get ahead for next year. While we're not throwing away this year we are using it as a way to get ready for 2014. ... If we can find our way to the next little level it's going to be really competitive and a much more satisfying spot to be in."