DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — 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 21/2-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.”
Kahne nips Smith at Daytona finish line: In Daytona Beach, Fla., Kasey Kahne nipped Regan Smith at the Daytona International Speedway finish line Friday night for his first Nationwide Series victory since 2007.
Smith, wound up second. Ryan Sieg was a career-best third.
Jeffrey Earnhardt needed a relief driver in the race after starting with a broken collarbone. Earnhardt was injured this week when he crashed his motorcycle. He started the race, but Earnhardt said he didn’t want to risk further damage that would lengthen the healing process.
Matt DiBenedetto replaced Earnhardt in the car on Lap 53 during the first pit stops under caution.
Hamilton back on top, but stops on track: In Silverstone, England, Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of Mercedes teammate and series leader Nico Rosberg on Friday in the second practice at the British Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old Briton, champion in 2008, clocked a best lap in 1 minute, 34.508 seconds to outpace Rosberg, who leads him by 29 points in the championship, by 0.228 seconds.
But on a warm and windy day Hamilton then stopped on track with an engine problem that hit his preparations for Sunday’s key race, which he has targeted for victory in a bid to reboot his title challenge.
Two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was third quickest for Ferrari. Alonso was seven seconds down on the pace-setters, but ahead of the two Red Bulls of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and defending four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel.
They were both more than a second behind on sheer one lap pace, but improved their overall pace on the long runs in the final stages of the long afternoon session.
Hamilton came to a halt on track with a serious engine problem an hour into the 90-minute session when he stopped out on the circuit. “Engine stopped,” he told the team by radio. “Says engine kill, no shifting.”
He managed only 14 completed laps compared to Rosberg’s 35, but will have access to the championship leader’s data after the session.
Rosberg leads Hamilton by 29 points in their personal duel for the title after eight of this year’s 19 races.
Finn Valtteri Bottas was sixth fastest for Williams - having missed the morning session when his car was briefly run for just three laps by Susie Wolff, the first woman to take part in a Grand Prix for 22 years - ahead of Briton Jenson Button in the leading McLaren.
Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen was eighth fastest in the second McLaren ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and 10th placed Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso.
Rosberg had topped the times Friday morning ahead of Hamilton in an opening session in which the main focus was on the luckless 31-year-old Wolff.
The Scot at least became the first woman to take part in a Grand Prix weekend since 1992, even if she lasted only three laps before her engine failed - and only a few minutes later her Williams team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa crashed out of the session.