DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Saturday morning’s NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying session at Daytona Int’l Speedway featured a litany of impressive runs by underdog teams and feel-good stories.
In a final round that was dominated by Richard Childress Racing for the fifth-straight year, Jeffrey Earnhardt earned a front-row starting spot in his debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, but the biggest run arguably came from Virginia’s Gray Gaulding.
Gaulding, who celebrated turning 21 last Sunday, gave himself a late birthday present by earning his highest-career starting spot in nine Xfinity Series races with a fifth-place effort during the final round.
Driving the No. 08 GGPURE.com Chevrolet for veteran owner Bobby Dotter, Gaulding toured the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 47.868 seconds (188.017 mph). His final-round speed wasn’t a fluke either, as Gaulding was fourth after the end of the first knockout session.
It was a pair of runs that Gaulding told SPEED SPORT he and his team never expected.
“Man, this is just a great day and a great opportunity,” Gaulding said. “Bobby and all these guys … we weren’t expecting to outrun some of the guys that we did there, so that’s really cool. I refer to one of my favorite movies as a kid – Six-Pack – when I talk about this team because that’s all the guys we have working on this car, including myself. The preparation they did during the wintertime was impressive.
“To have a top-five qualifying run on single-car speed is so good for us, to bring in new partners like Pure and Fly Wheel,” Gaulding added. “I’m just ready to get this race going now. It’s an exciting feeling.”
Gaulding outqualified teams from JR Motorsports, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and GMS Racing on Saturday moment, a statement he was smiling from ear-to-ear about afterward because he believes he can contend for a potential victory when the green flag waves over the field.
“We see the times and the speed of the car, so we know that’s there for us,” noted Gaulding. “If my spotter and I just make the right moves, don’t do anything crazy, get up there and do our thing, I believe we’ll be in a good position at the end of the race. It’s all about surviving and getting there.”
Another impressive run by a smaller team during qualifying was Ryan Sieg’s eighth-place lap for RSS Racing.
Sieg posted a best time of 47.893 seconds (187.919 mph) in the No. 39 Larry’s Hard Lemonade Chevrolet, easily eclipsing his previous best superspeedway qualifying effort of 16th at Daytona in 2015.
A big addition to Sieg’s team has been veteran crew chief Shane Wilson, who joined RSS Racing during the offseason after working with Kaz Grala for half of last year.
“Man, Shane has been such a huge part of us being able to find more speed in our race cars,” Sieg noted. “We’ve done a lot of work in offseason on getting our stuff better and becoming stronger as a team. He and I have really meshed together and worked hard, and this is looking like a good start.”
The third and final notable underdog that cracked the top 12 in qualifying was Caesar Bacarella, who will start 12th in the No. 90 Alpha Prime/MAXIM Chevrolet for Mario Gosselin’s DGM Racing operation.
It’s the first time one of Gosselin’s cars has made the final round on an oval track in the Xfinity Series.
“This is a good run, a good day for us so far,” noted the Canadian team owner. “It’s a long race, though.”
Regardless of Saturday afternoon’s outcome, Gaulding, Sieg and Bacarella showed that they have what it takes to make some noise and reminded fans in attendance that Daytona is still a place where Cinderella stories can shine.