DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was supposed to be NASCAR’s big debut of its “knockout” qualifying format on Friday but intermittent rain ended it after the initial session.
That allowed Turner Scott Motorsports to sweep the top three positions for Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300.
Rookie Dylan Kwasniewski won the pole with a fast lap at 192.078 miles per hour in a Chevrolet. Teammate Kyle Larson was next at 192.074 mph and teammate Danica Patrick rounded out the top three at 192.033 mph.
It was Kwasniewski’s first pole of his Nationwide Series career and Larson’s first top-10 start in three races at Daytona. Patrick had her fifth top-10 start at Daytona.
Although there were two more sessions scheduled in this new qualification format that were canceled because of rain, the fact all drivers were able to complete the initial qualification session made it an official grid.
“It’s pretty surreal to be sitting here,” Kwasniewski said. “Danica did a good job leading us through the pack and getting us clean through there. I hung around in the back and was able to pull through. The format was a lot of fun and for my first time at Daytona to actually get the pole it’s an unexplainable feeling. I can’t believe I’m sitting up here.”
The Turner Scott trio worked together in the qualification session to sweep the top three positions.
“Being a rookie it’s hard to make the decision which pack to go through and Danica picked her way through and got us all clean laps,” Kwasniewski said. “We all three got there and now we get to start that way in the race. It’s all thanks to those guys – and girls. I was not expecting this at all.
“This is an extraordinary feeling.”
Larson was one of the contenders for victory in last year’s Nationwide Series race but was involved in the horrific last lap crash where his car went airborne and tore down part of the fence with debris injuring spectators in the grandstands.
Since that time the fence in that area has been rebuilt and redesigned and Larson could be a contender on Saturday.
“The new qualifying was really wild especially on a superspeedway,” Larson said. “It was a lot of fun. I thought we may have waited too long to get in the right pack because I thought they were going to start pulling off the track and we wouldn’t get as good as a tow as we needed. We had a few hairy moments where we had to check up and get on the brakes. It was really good efforts for Turner Scott Motorsports to have three cars entered and take the top three spots in qualifying. Hopefully we can have a top-three finish in the race on Saturday.”
Patrick didn’t need to see the other two rounds of qualifications completed because it couldn’t have worked out any better for her team.
“Well, we’re 1-2-3,” Patrick said. “As I team I don’t think we can be any better than that. Being 1-2-3 as a team is exactly what we were shooting for.”
Patrick described the strategy she tried to employ on her qualification lap with so many cars on the track at the same time.
“You didn’t want to drop back too far but I was confident we could punch such a big hole that everyone could catch up,” Patrick said. “We did two timed laps and the first one wasn’t the greatest so we didn’t really get on it until Turn 4. That lap was OK but not great. The next lap was the one where we caught the pack down the backstraight.
“We were following that pack and when we came into Turn 4 there were two cars that were too tight together. I had one little lift and got pretty close to them and we got a good pull down the frontstraight. That ended up being quick enough.”
Patrick thought there was plenty of room for this format at Daytona but said on the short tracks “I can’t see where this isn’t going to be a total disaster.”
“There are going to be tracks where a lot of drivers are mad at each other,” Patrick said. “If NASCAR wanted to make it exciting for the fans they have certainly done that.”
Kyle Busch qualified fourth in a Toyota at 191.620 miles per hour and JGR teammate Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five with an identical speed but Busch got the edge because he was the first to record that speed.
Rookie driver Chad Boat, the son of 1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner Billy Boat, was the last driver to make the field and will start 40th in a Chevrolet after running a lap at 189.239 mph.
Missing the race were David Ragan, Tanner Berryhill, Chris Buescher, Willie Allen, Matt Carter, Clay Greenfield, Carl Long, Matt DiBenedetto and Carlos Contreras.