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Kwasniewski shines in multicar qualifying

February 21, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers were the first to put NASCAR's new qualifying process to the test, and although Friday's program here at Daytona International Speedway was interrupted by inclement weather, the new format drew plenty of reaction from those behind the wheel.

"I had an idea it was going to be kind of like this," said Richard Childress Racing driver Ty Dillon. "But once you get out there and do it, it's pretty wild. … We get to do this for a job, so I'm not going to complain."

After years of using single-car runs to determine the starting order, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams now qualify in groups.

On tracks larger than 1.25 miles, all teams have 25 minutes in the first session to post an official lap, with the fastest 24 advancing to the second round. The fastest 12 from the second round advance to a third and final round.

Only two rounds are used to set the lineup on tracks 1.25 miles and shorter.

Should qualifying be cut short due to weather -- as was the case here Friday -- times taken from the most recently completed round are used to determine the lineup.

Rain interrupted the opening session for the Nationwide Series with approximately six minutes remaining. Although more rain was expected, officials were able to dry the track and complete the first session.

Turner Scott Motorsports teammates Dylan Kwasniewski (192.078 mph), Kyle Larson (192.074) and Danica Patrick (192.033) posted the top three times to lock in the first three starting positions.

"It's pretty crazy," Kwasniewski said during the rain delay. " … To see my name at the top of the board, that's ridiculous. … That's Turner Scott Motorsports' job right there. All we have to do is get in the right place at the right time and the spotters did a great job of getting us in the right position.

"We got a great run on that pack in front of us, sucked up at the right time."

Kwasniewski said he and his teammates made mock qualifying runs with each another during practice to help determine what might be most beneficial once qualifying began.

When the session got underway, Larson said the TSM group "spent the first three or so laps waiting for a big pack to pass us and then I was getting nervous because I wasn't sure if that pack had already laid down a good enough lap and were going to pull in.

"Luckily they hung around and we were able to get a good tow off them and I think we ended up second there. It got hairy there … we had to thread the needle."

"We just did one lap where we got a tow and when it was good enough to get a top-three for the teams, we just pulled right off. Single-car qualifying is really boring. This is definitely extremely exciting. Sketchy at moments, but definitely exciting."

The wide expanse of Daytona, where drafting equals speed, provided the optimum opportunity for teammates to help push one another around the 2.5-mile track. It also provided the opportunity for trouble, although none surfaced.

"With superspeedway racing there's always a chance to be in a wreck, there's a risk-reward there and you have to decide how hard you are going to push it to get that lap, how important is that track position to you at a plate track," Sprint Cup veteran Matt Kenseth said. "Certainly there's a lot of risk when you're holding back on purpose, when people are slowing up on purpose to not let everybody get a lap. There's a lot going on which is exactly why they did it.”

Kenseth, who will start sixth in Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300, said he had a simple game plan -- stay squarely behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

"Yeah, I was going to follow Kyle," he said. "Put all the pressure squarely on Kyle's shoulders."

Busch will start fourth.

Patrick, making a one-off appearance with the TSM group, said the timing of a run and position of other packs on the track made the difference.

"You didn't want to drop back too far, but I really was confident that they were punching such a big hole that we were going to catch up," she said. "We stayed organized and when everyone's in a big pack they're all over the place. I'm sure you could see that in the corners.

"We did two timed laps. The first one probably wasn't the greatest because when the pack went by, the spotter said 'get going' and they weren't far enough away. So we really didn't get on it until Lap 4.

"That lap was probably OK, but it wasn't great. It was that next lap that was the one."

There will be times, Patrick warned, that the new qualifying format may "be a total disaster."

"Like when we go to short tracks," she added. "I just can't imagine what it's going to be like. Here there's plenty of room … there are many, many lanes. It's all about momentum.

"But when you go to a place like Bristol, when we go to Martinsville, shoot even Phoenix -- short tracks in general are just going to be a really big challenge. And then you've got the mile-and-a-halves where you're going even faster. I think these speedways are really interesting and there's a lot of moving around but there are some that you are going to find a lot of drivers mad at other ones.

"If NASCAR was looking at making it interesting for the fans, they've done that."

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams were scheduled to qualify using the new format, but weather conditions forced officials to cancel qualifying for Friday night's NextEra Energy 250.

Sprint Cup Series teams will put the format to the test for the first time when the series travels to Phoenix International Raceway next week.

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