DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — David Gilliland might have summed up Daytona qualifying best.
"It's uncontrolled chaos out there," Gilliland said Friday after landing the pole in a rain-shortened and somewhat hairy session that set the field for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Gilliland's top speed during a hectic, cat-and-mouse qualifying session was 199.322 mph, earning him his third Sprint Cup pole and first since landing the top spot for the 2007 Daytona 500. All three of his poles have been at restrictor-plate races, with the first one coming at Talladega in 2006.
"Front Row Motorsports, our strong point is definitely speedway racing," said Gilliland, who finished third in the 2011 Daytona 500. "It is something that's circled on our calendar from the start of the year. We put a lot of emphasis on it. The restrictor-plate tracks are good equalizers. David Ragan and I both have good enough cars to win, and that is an exciting feeling. It's something we don't have every week."
The top 24 drivers Friday in the first knockout stage were supposed to advance to the next round, but rain prompted NASCAR to cancel the final two sessions.
Reed Sorenson qualified second, followed by Landon Cassill, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson. Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will attempt to become the sixth drive to sweep both annual races at NASCAR's most famous track Saturday, was seventh.
All the talk during and after was about how the qualifying session shook out. It was the first time NASCAR's new qualifying rules were used at Daytona, and it produced some hairy moments as groups of cars slowed to a crawl around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway. The small packs — most of them formed by teammates — were hoping to pull behind bigger groups to produce fast laps. But no one was eager to lead the way.
"It's a mess," Earnhardt said. "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."