Mother Nature has helped make a surprising grid for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Four of NASCAR’s smaller teams have locked out the front two rows after rain showers hit the 2.5-mile oval following the opening round of Sprint Cup qualifying. With the NASCAR Nationwide Series scheduled to race later tonight, the sanctioning body chose to cancel the final two rounds of qualifying and set Saturday’s field on Round 1 results.
That gives David Gilliland of aptly-named Front Row Motorsports the pole position. Also capitalizing on the rain was Tommy Baldwin Racing, which will have its driver, Reed Sorenson, starting second. Additionally, Hillman Racing’s Landon Cassill and Circle Sport’s Bobby Labonte will make up the second row.
Defending Coke Zero 400 winner Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth start in Row 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gilliland’s teammate, David Ragan, are in Row 4, and Row 5 features Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle.
“Everybody at Front Row Motorsports has worked real hard on our restrictor-plate program and with our win last year at Talladega with David Ragan, I feel like this is our strong suit for our team,” Gilliland told MRN Radio.
“We knew anything could happen coming here, and Frank Kerr, my crew chief, has worked really hard on this car. It’s got a lot of speed and we’re really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Today marked the debut of NASCAR’s new knockout-style qualifying at Daytona (the Daytona 500 has its own qualifying format), and the first round saw strategies aplenty. It manifested itself on the track with major speed differences between packs of cars as they made their way around.
Sorenson told Fox Sports that he had to bide his time before he was able to put together a flyer.
“For a while there, we were going slow like forever – maybe seven or eight laps there and then we finally took off,” he said. “I actually got separated from the guys I was following a little bit and the 40 car [Cassill] was behind me and the 33 [Labonte] got in front of me, and that enabled us to get sucked up to those guys and run a good lap.”
“This is a great opportunity for us, and I don’t know about starting [up front] and whether that helps or hurts you. But it’s exciting for us to be on the front row. Hopefully, we can stay there all night and be there at the end.”
Meanwhile, as the smaller teams got to the front of the grid, many big teams will have to start from the back of it.
Among those that did not make the Top 24 were Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski in 26th, his Penske teammate Joey Logano in 28th, Danica Patrick in 29th, Kyle Larson in 35th, Denny Hamlin in 37th, Kyle Busch in 38th, and Kurt Busch in 39th.
Logano was one of several drivers that seemed befuddled over how today’s session played out.
“I don’t know about [qualifying being] crazy, we were only going 5 miles per hour for a little bit…It’s just kind of frustrating to try to figure it all out and what’s going on,” he said to MRN.
“You have a good run, then you get blocked and you try to get another run but half the cars are off the race track so you can’t get another one going.
“…I’m as confused as everybody else is right now.”
Also in the same boat was Earnhardt Jr., who like Logano, attempted to convey proper thoughts on qualifying before settling on the following:
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT DAYTONA – COKE ZERO 400 STARTING LINEUP