Kasey Kahne made a surprisingly strong run Friday to win the pole for the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the striking news of the day was a poor qualifying performance by Sprint Cup point leader Denny Hamlin
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was sixth.
Hamlin was far back, wrestling with problems that left him 37th on the qualifying list.
Hamlin leads Johnson by 15 points and Kevin Harvick by 46 entering Sunday’s final race.
Hamlin, who also had trouble getting speed in Friday practice, didn’t express concern after his qualifying run.
“Our car will be fine tomorrow,” he said. “Friday has just never been our strong suit.”
Hamlin has won two poles this season, but he typically struggles in qualifying. In the past 10 races, he has qualified outside the top 20 seven times.
Harvick, the third driver in the championship running, qualified 28th.
The pole was Kahne’s fourth of the season, tying him with McMurray for the lead in that category for the year. McMurray will be the official leader in poles because he’s higher in the point standings.
In practice earlier in the day, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Matt Kenseth and McMurray were in the top five. Hamlin was 30th and Harvick 31st.
The race will end Kahne’s short run (five races) with Red Bull Racing for this year before he runs the full season with the team next year.
“It’s the best qualifying run by far since I’ve been in Red Bull,” Kahne said. “I look forward to Sunday’s race, being up front and being in the mix. I hope we can stick with it tomorrow and have a good practice and be competitive and in the mix on Sunday.”
Kahne is scheduled to have surgery on his knees Tuesday to repair damage that has developed over years and is expected to be out of race cars for several weeks. He described the surgery as minor and said he expects to be back on his feet by Thursday.
Edwards has been on a roll recently and continued that strength in qualifying.
“We’ve put more time in qualifying trim the last half of the season, and that’s helped,” Edwards said.
“We came into this race focused on this qualifying effort. It is disappointing not to get the pole [which would have been his fourth], but we have a fast car.
“We just need to continue it this weekend and hopefully lock down fourth place in points. That would be a big accomplishment for us, and we’ll just keep truckin’.”
Edwards said Ford’s new engine and a lot of “very small things” have made the difference in recent months.
“The engine is something that you can’t ever discount because you use it every lap, qualifying, leaving the pits, restarts, all of that,” he said. “I think the engine is really important, and that’s something where I believe we’re a lotbetter than we were a year ago, and we’re still making progress on that. And then just little things making the race cars better race cars, but there truly isn’t one thing like the skewed rear-end housing or a giant leap in horsepower or something like that. It’s just a combination of very small things.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.