Wacky qualifying evokes colorful driver opinions

First Cup go-around of group qualifying at Daytona comes with polarizing driver takes

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Adjectives were plentiful as drivers attempted to describe Friday’s rain-shortened qualifying effort for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

They were also colorful.

Teams completed only one of the three scheduled rounds before rain arrived at the 2.5-mile track, forcing officials to cancel the two remaining sessions and set Saturday’s race lineup based off the initial 25-minute session.

Not surprisingly, drivers who qualified toward the front of the 43-car field were kind in describing perhaps the oddest qualifying session of the year.

"That was interesting, to say the least," noted Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, who will line up 10th for the series’ 18th race of the year. "It is sort of different, because it isn’t really qualifying, you know what I mean? I don’t know what to call it honestly."

Drivers jockeyed for position, some going far slower than passenger cars on nearby Interstate 95. Waiting for a fast train of others to flash by in order to catch the rush of air.


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"It’s a mess. You have to be in the very back and try to get a big tow," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I ain’t ever seen anything like it. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen."

The winner here in February, the Hendrick Motorsports driver will start seventh as he attempts to become just the sixth driver to sweep both Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona.

David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports) and Reed Sorenson (Tommy Baldwin Racing) will start 1-2, respectively. Neither has won in Sprint Cup competition, but Gilliland’s been at the wheel of a fast machine before — he now has three poles in the series. All three have come on restrictor-plate tracks.

Landon Cassill, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson will start third through fifth.

"I was expecting a cluster and that is exactly what we got," said Marcos Ambrose, 18th fastest in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. "I don’t know how to describe it really.

"For me, it is not what I am here to do. I am not here to drive around in second gear … I am here to go 200 miles per hour. It’s an odd deal but we got through it."

Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota) will start sixth. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion is fifth in points, but after winning seven times a year ago, Kenseth has yet to win this season.

"It was really wild and it was pretty dangerous," he said. "There were cars doing 80 (mph) and there were cars doing 200 and nobody wanted to go.

"Everybody wanted to be in the back of the pack and try to catch the front to get a lap, so it was pretty chaotic."

Teams did not use the new qualifying format here at Daytona in February. It was used for the first time on a plate track in May at Talladega Superspeedway.

"A lot of guys were running even slower than at Talladega," said Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers, "and then some guys even taking chances on blocking the field, which was what really almost caused a few wrecks."

Vickers will start 30th.

Points leader Jeff Gordon landed in the top 10, and will start ninth.

Both Team Penske cars, which have been strong in qualifying all season long, with each winning two poles, will start outside the top 25. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, was only 26th fastest while teammate Joey Logano was 28th.

It is the worst starting position since the Daytona 500 for both drivers.

"The fortunate side," Logano said, "is we are in Daytona and it doesn’t really matter a whole bunch. There is only so much you can do as a driver and a team … you are trying to figure it all out and it is frustrating."

The pole winner hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race at Daytona since 2010, although six of the last eight race winners here have started inside the top 10.


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