Despite the rain shower (and multi-car crash caused by it) that ended Nationwide Series Qualifying early, the track was dry and ready to go for Group Qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay that way for long.
The first usage of group qualifying at Daytona for Cup resulted in a series of fast laps, followed by posturing and gamesmanship. Large packs of cars would drive around the 2.5-mile tri-oval at speeds normally seen on the nearby interstates, solely because they didn’t want to be the first car out there. That is because the first car in a car is typically the slowest.
Once the posturing ended, the speeds elevated. Michael McDowell was the early pacesetter before a Hendrick Motorsports train monopolized the charts with Jimmie Johnson the fastest.
After a short break, the packs returned. A couple of large packs formed on track, turning quick laps. Then, the second pack proceeded to run down the first pack at high speed, which resulted in the best times of the session. David Gilliland, who was in that pack, turned in the fastest lap at 45.153 seconds (199.322 mph). Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Reed Sorenson was second fastest, followed by Hillman Racing’s Landon Cassill. Quasi-teammate Bobby Labonte, driving the same car for Circle Sport that Brian Scott put on pole at Talladega, was fourth fastest, while Johnson rounded out the top-5.
At the end of the session, the rains returned, pelting the track with rain. After a short while, NASCAR cancelled the rest of qualifying for the second time on Friday, giving Gilliland his third career pole, all of which coming at restrictor plate races. It is also the first-ever pole position for Front Row Motorsports.
Afterwards, Gilliland was very happy.
“Front Row Motorsports’ strong point is definitely the [restrictor plate racing],” Gilliland said during his press conference. “It’s something that we put a lot of emphasis in, and we feel that we have good speedway cars. David Ragan and I both have good enough cars to win tomorrow night, which is an exciting feeling that we don’t have every week.”
While Sorenson and Cassill were second and third in qualifying, their cars did not come out of the session pristine. While drafting, Sorenson had to hit the brakes and ran in the back of Sorenson, damaging the right front of the No. 40 below the headlight and slightly denting in Sorenson’s bumper. Neither team plans to repair the damage, and will thus keep their starting spots.
Other notables in Qualifying include Matt Kenseth in sixth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in seventh, points leader Jeff Gordon in ninth, Greg Biffle tenth, Carl Edwards 11th and Kevin Harvick 13th. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch both had to take provisionals (37th and 39th, respectively). The only driver to fail to qualify was Joe Nemechek, who did not have a provisional to fall back on and failed to qualify in the top-36.
The Coke Zero 400 is scheduled to roll off at 7:48 PM EDT Saturday night. Coverage on TV begins with Countdown to Green Served by Sonic on TNT at 6:30 PM EDT.