Everybody expects the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing or Roush Fenway Racing to be on the pole for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway – however, Front Row Motorsports? Really? That’s exactly what happened on Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway as David Gilliland put the underfunded team on the pole with a lap of 45.153 seconds. It marks Gilliland’s first pole of 2014 and the third pole of his career.
“I cant wait to talk to Bob Jankins,” Gilliland commented, referring to Front Row Motorsports team owner. “We’re finally on the front row. We’re excited about that. Restrictor plates are the strong suit of this organization, obviously, and it’s great to get the pole. It was crazy out there so hopefully it was a good show for the fans at home.”
With this being the second time knock-out qualifying has been attempted on a superspeedway, the stars of the Sprint Cup Series are beginning to learn the games that are needed to be played. Drivers found themselves ‘lallygagging’ around the track to try and catch the right run on the group ahead of them when they did go. If they found themselves being caught without catching a group, they’d drop off. The games were played for the entire 25 minutes and at the end, a surprise was held as three small organizations will lead the field to green on Saturday night.
NASCAR only did the first round of the three-round knock-out system as a result of rounds two and three being rained out. NASCAR has it at their ability to call a session complete if all the cars have taken to the track in a round, or the round is officially complete.
Reed Sorenson would qualify his Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing in second, marking his first top-10 start of the season and second in 11 starts at Daytona.
“There was some type of plan. I just kind of did what my spotter did as they had it more worked out on the roof than we could,” Sorenson commented. “For awhile there, we were really slow there and I actually got separated from the people that I was with. But that allowed us to get with that group there and get a good run.
“It’s exciting for us to be on the front row and hopefully we can stay there all night and be there at the end. At least we can stay out of the trouble for the first straightaway, at least.”
Landon Cassill qualified third, followed by Bobby Labonte and defending race winner Jimmie Johnson.
“The car is fast. We saw that yesterday with our single-car runs so very proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports,” Johnson commented. “It’s a fast racecar, it’s in the top-five so we’ll start there and hopefully put on a good show.
“Truthfully, I think it’s great to see names, teams and sponsors that you normally don’t see a lot up there. I think it’ll do a lot for them to have their names in the forefront.”
Matt Kenseth qualified sixth, followed by Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle.
Notably, many of the top drivers failed to make the top 24 in qualifying, including Brian Vickers, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson.
“There’s cars going every which way – there’s cars going 200, cars going 130 – and it’s hard to believe that nobody has wrecked yet. I think once the green flag drops, they’ll be lots of options in whether to go to the front or to the back,” Vickers commented.
“That was pretty dumb,” Logano said. “You got to rely on everybody else and we only had a small group with only three of us so we’re trying to tag on to other groups but you don’t know what they’re doing. We were almost stopped there and I was like, ‘Um, what am I to do now’. Unfortunately, we qualified really bad – but you can start anywhere here at Daytona.”
“I guess that’s the way it goes with this qualifying, espically when you have a two-car organization in trying to form something; you’re really at the mercy of what group you get with or who tags along. We’ll start deep, but not a big deal,” Larson said, who adds that he’ll probably just race straight to the front.
Joe Nemechek was the only driver that failed to qualify as RAB Racing was trying to make their Sprint Cup Series debut.