Practice and qualifying sessions have concluded for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach, Florida and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start from the pole position.
Earnhardt’s 14th career pole is his first of the year. Two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates will start in the top four, with Chase Elliott rolling off second and Kasey Kahne starting fourth.
The Ford cars continued showing the speed they demonstrated in the practice sessions, taking six of the top ten spots. Last year’s winner Brad Keselowski was the fastest among them, winning the third starting position.
The two dominant drivers so far this season both struggled in qualifying, with championship leader Kyle Larson getting the 21st spot and Martin Truex Jr. also failing to advance past the first round with a 25th-place effort.
No cars from the still-winless Joe Gibbs Racing team made it into the final round of qualifying.
Kyle Busch turned in the fastest lap across both of Thursday’s practice sessions while eight of the ten fastest cars were Fords. All 40 cars on the entry list ran laps in the first practice session, but only nineteen ran in the second practice session.
Speeds were noticeably lower in the second session. With the draft being so important at restrictor plate tracks, practice results are generally to be taken with a grain of salt.
Larson ran 34th-quickest. He was one of several drivers to run out of fuel while leading this year’s Daytona 500 and has struggled mightily at Daytona throughout his young career.
His performance was not atypical for the Chevrolet cars as they made up a mere two of the top 15 cars. On the other hand, ten Fords were among the 15 fastest cars, including both Penske cars of Joey Logano and Keselowski in the top five.
Five Drivers To Watch
Brad Keselowski has established himself as a threat to win every restrictor plate race, with five career wins at Daytona and Talladega. He qualified third and ran second-fastest in practice, which is unsurprising considering that last year, Keselowski won this race.
Look for him and teammate Logano to work together to stay near the front.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead the field to the green flag. Sitting 22nd in the championship standings 134 points behind the cutoff to qualify for the playoffs without a win, Earnhardt needs to notch a victory in the next ten races to have a shot at the title in his final year of competition.
Of the ten laps he has led this year, eight of them were at Daytona in the season-opening Daytona 500, during which he was collected in a crash while leading. The four-time Daytona winner has struggled mightily this year, but had very competitive cars at Daytona and Talladega.
This weekend may represent his best chance at punching his ticket to the playoffs.
Kyle Busch, still seeking the first non-exhibition win for Joe Gibbs Racing this year, showed great speed in practice turning in the fastest lap of the day. The 2015 series champion sits fourth in the points despite a string of minor calamities preventing him from collecting a win.
He will start 16th, and while he hasn’t won at Daytona since 2008, he is a threat to win every week and this race is no exception.
Chase Elliott was just about as fast as Earnhardt Jr. throughout Friday’s qualifying session. He led this year’s Daytona 500 on the final lap until running out of fuel.
He sits sixth in the championship standings with ten top-10 finishes, but is still seeking his first career win in the Cup Series.
David Ragan starts 30th in the #34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports. He ran 21st-fastest in practice, but this two-time restrictor plate winner can never be ruled out.
Daytona is known for producing unlikely winners, and among the extreme long-shots, Ragan is the best bet to play the role of Cinderella.
Race coverage will begin Saturday night at 12:30AM (7:30EST) live on @essaarLIVE.