Gilliland wins rain-shortened qualifying at Daytona

Daytona Beach, FL ( - David Gilliland got a lot of help from Mother Nature to win Friday's qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

This was the first time NASCAR's new knockout-style of qualifying was used for a Sprint Cup Series race at this famed superspeedway. But after the completion of the opening 25-minute round, rain fell on the track and forced NASCAR officials to call off the second and third rounds in qualifying.

The session here was chaotic and quite confusing for drivers, with major speed differences between the pack of cars on the track. At times, some cars drove around this 2.5-mile track at a drastically reduced pace, playing a cat-and- mouse game, while other cars ran in a pack at full speed.

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

Gilliland, who drives the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, set the fastest lap in the initial round at 199.322 mph. All three of Gilliland's pole wins have come at restrictor-plate tracks. His first career pole in the series occurred in the fall of 2006 at Talladega, and his second came in the 2007 Daytona 500. He has yet to win a race in NASCAR's top series.

"Restrictor-plate tracks are our strong suit as an organization," Gilliland said. "Out there today was crazy. It was wild, and there was chaos. I hope everybody enjoyed it on TV. You didn't really know what to do. You had to get a good run to make a good lap."

Reed Sorenson qualified second at 199.221 mph in his No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Chevrolet.

"I just did what my spotter said, and I think they had it more organized up on the roof than what we could do down here," Sorenson said. "For a while there, I was going slow, maybe seven or eight laps there, before I finally took off. I actually got separated from the guys I was following. The 40 car [Landon Cassill] was behind me, and the 33 car [Bobby Labonte] got in front of me. That enabled me to kind of get sucked up with those guys to run a good lap."

Cassill took the third spot, while Labonte, making just his second start this season, was fourth. The top-four finishers in qualifying all drive for underfunded teams in the series.

Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion as well as the winner of last year's 400-mile race at Daytona, qualified fifth. Matt Kenseth placed sixth and Earnhardt seventh. Earnhardt is attempting to score a season- sweep here after winning the Daytona 500 in February.

David Ragan, who is Gilliland's teammate at Front Row, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle completed the top-10.

Other notable drivers and their starting positions for this race include: Carl Edwards (11th), Tony Stewart (12th), Kevin Harvick (13th), Kasey Kahne (14th), Ryan Newman (20th), Paul Menard (21st), Brad Keselowski (26th), Joey Logano (28th), Danica Patrick (29th) and Clint Bowyer (34th).

Rookie Austin Dillon qualified 23rd after winning the Daytona 500 earlier this year. Kyle Larson, also a rookie this season, was 35th.

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each had to take a provisional. Hamlin will start 37th, Kyle Busch 39th and Kurt Busch 40th.

Joe Nemechek was the only driver who failed to qualify for Saturday night's 400-mile race at Daytona.