Mother Nature played a big role Friday at Daytona International Speedway, as rain shortened the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 and giving a surprise pole to David Gilliland.
Rain has plagued NASCAR since Thursday when the weather forced the series to cancel final practice. Friday the intermittent rain created havoc during the knockout qualifying session earlier in the day. Halfway through the first round, a sudden rain shower opened up on the backstretch while the cars wer at speed. Before they could get slowed down one car spun causing a multi-car pileup. No drivers were injured but NASCAR was forced to cut that session short.
Friday evening qualifying began with a 25-minute Round One for all 44 cars entered; 24 cars then advanced to a 10-minute Round 2 which never took place. The format would’ve then advanced 12 cars to Round 3, a five-minute sprint for the pole.
Gilliland, driving the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, led Round One with a fast lap of 199.322 mph. And while some may consider it lucky that he was leading the first round when the rains came, when it comes to high-speed restrictor-plate qualifying Gilliland has been strong. He has one other pole at Daytona, that coming in the 2007 Daytona 500; his other pole came at Talladega Superspeedway, the other restrictor plate track on the circuit.
“I think Front Row Motorsports, our strong point is definitely speedway racing.,” Gilliland said. “It is something that is circled on our calendar from the star of the year. We put a lot of emphasis on it. We have good speedway cars. The restrictor plate tracks are a good equalizer.”
Reed Sorensen qualified second (199.221) in the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet. Qualifying third was Landon Cassill (199.194) in the No. 40 Newtown Building Supplies Chevrolet. The 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte (198.970) will start fourth in the No. 33 Thunder Coal Chevrolet, while reigning and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (198.790) will start fifth in the No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet.
Gilliland’s teammate David Ragan won at Talladega last year, proving that the Front Row Ford’s can compete on the restrictor plate tracks.
“David Ragan and I both have cars good enough to win tomorrow and that is an exciting feeling,” Gilliland said. “It is something myself and my teammate don’t have every week. We would like to have that but we don’t. We are looking forward to it. Starting from the pole and having the number one pit stall will help and having early track position, all of that is going to help.”
Ragan will start eighth Saturday night.
Reed Sorensen qualified second (199.221), qualifying third was Landon Cassill (199.194) and 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte (198.970) will start fourth. Reigning and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (198.790) will start fifth.