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

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.