More rain at Daytona hands Coke Zero 400 pole to David Gilliland

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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

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”