Nancy Knapp Schilke
Matt Kenseth and RFR stay strong as they grab the Coke Zero 400 pole. Stewart loses front row start
Roush Fenway Racing announced on June 26th that the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion would not be with the Ford team that he spent his entire career with in 2013; sans his first ever Cup race. Today on the 2.5 mile Tri-oval, Kenseth earned his first pole out of 26th starts at the Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth commented: “Our lap was obviously a good one. It was faster than the rest. I had very little to do with it, so qualifying at the speedway races is all about the car and the engine and those guys did a spectacular job at Roush all year long really in preparing our speedway cars. They’ve been really fast and Doug Yates and those guys have done a super job on the engines with the new fuel injection and the plate engines have run really good and had us competitive at both speedway races so far this year.”
With a time of 46.781 (192.386 mph) in his No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion, the current points leader also notched his first pole this season. “I’ve never won a speedway pole. Certainly you know you didn’t have a lot to do with the outcome compared to all the other race tracks, but it’s great to be on the pole. It puts us in the shootout for next year, which, to me, until they changed the format four or five years ago, that was always a big deal,” said Kenseth.
Tony Stewart was the 19th driver to take his qualifying run, and he held the provisional pole with a time of 46.787 (192.361 mph) until Kenseth, who was the 31st driver to make an attempt. Within minutes of qualifying ending, the driver/team owner saw NASCAR officials disallow his qualifying time; moving the No. 14 to 42nd on the grid.
The reason from NASCAR was due to an open cooling hose into cockpit during qualifying. The defending Cup champion shrugged his shoulders and said, “You asked me if I did anything different, I said ‘I held it wide open.’ You asked if they did anything special I said ‘yeah, they gave me full throttle this time.’ So my reward is I get a Coke Zero for this. That is well worth holding it wide open for.”
The Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chevrolet team had a good day when Ryan Newman took his turn 41st in the line. Newman laid down his best at 46.789 (192.353 mph) to nail down third fastest but due to his teammate being bumped to the back, Newman will start from second on the starting grid for Saturday’s race under the lights.
“We were decent and we were fourth when in practice. Just have to thank Aspen Dental for jumping on board. This is our main race with them so hopefully we’ll have a good outing with them here in Daytona. We need it from a team standpoint and points perspective. I think our car is good but we need to make it to the end. That’s the bottom line,” said Newman.
Fourth fastest was Kenseth’s teammate Greg Biffle with a 46.841 (192.139 mph). “I’m pretty happy with the car. The car drove really good in practice and actually the first practice it was a little bit tight, so we made some adjustments and put a little downforce in the front of the car, which hurts overall speed and we knew it would and we’d pay for it today in qualifying, but we’re pretty happy with the car.” Biffle will now move up a slot to third on the grid.
Joining Biffle on row two will be Jeff Gordon. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsport driver set the fifth fastest time in qualifying when he clocked off a 46.860 (192.061 mph). He now bumps up to fourth.
Gordon said, “It’s typical qualifying . I’m really excited about the race tomorrow. We’ve worked really hard on our race setup. The track has changed and has a lot of grip in the tires and they don’t fall off like they used to. I still think that here in July, you’re going to need the car to drive really good. So, we’ll see where we end up but the Pepsi Max Chevrolet is looking good and driving good and I’m very excited for tomorrow. The guys did an awesome job.”
Bill Elliott is back and while he was sixth on the track, the veteran driver will start fifth. Turner Motorsports is making their debut race in the Cup series, and Elliott clocked a 46.872 (192.012 mph) in their Chevrolet.
Rounding out the top ten for the starting grid were Casey Mears (Ford), AJ Allmendinger (Dodge), Brad Keselowski (Dodge), and Marcos Ambrose (Ford).