RCR claims the front row for Daytona 400

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - Steve Park ventured out late in Thursday night's qualifying session and landed his fourth career pole and second this season. Piloting the No. 30 RCR Chevrolet, Park posted a speed of 184.752 mph, to garner his first pole with...

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - Steve Park ventured out late in Thursday night's qualifying session and landed his fourth career pole and second this season. Piloting the No. 30 RCR Chevrolet, Park posted a speed of 184.752 mph, to garner his first pole with his new team. Park was terminated from DEI and the No. 1 Chevy earlier this year, and promptly hired by the RCR team.

This is Park's first pole at Daytona International Speedway, but the second in a row for the No. 30 Chevy at the beach. Jeff Green, the No. 30's former driver, sat on the pole in the No. 30 for February's Daytona 500.

"I really want to thank the guys in the fab shop," said Park. "They really put a body on this car and they spent a bunch of time to get this job done. The AOL Chevy really ran superb. I just want to thank the entire team."

"We had great horsepower. These guys sat on the pole for the 500, so it doesn't surprise me that we're fast enough to be on the pole tonight. I'm just ecstatic. We haven't had the season we wanted to have. We had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. It feels so good. I am so happy to be at Richard Childress."

Park booted four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon off the top seat. Gordon had gone out early, and been on the top of the chart for two hours and looked like he had the pole wrapped up. Richard Childress racing cars, which were not exceptionally fast in practice, came on strong at the end. After Park nabbed the pole, his teammate Kevin Harvick rallied and landed the second starting spot.

Harvick, the defending pole winner of this event, posted a lap of 184.647 mph. It is his third top-ten start this year.

"We fully expected that," said Harvick. "I'm merely a passenger. These guys (the crew), this is their time to do what they do with the car and the engines and all their tricks. It shows. It's a lot of fun because you never know what's coming."

Jeff Gordon, making his 22nd start at Daytona, salvaged third with a lap of 184.498 mph Gordon has charted eleven top-ten finishes and four wins at the 2.5-mile superspeedway during his Winston Cup career.

"You know, when you go through the inspection line over there, you never know," said Gordon of his slower qualifying time compared to practice speeds. "I'm pretty happy with that lap. Everything looked good to me. It was a good, clean lap and the car drove great. The RPM's were there and all the gauges did what we wanted them to do. You listen to the pitch of the engine and the RPM, and just hold it to the floor. I think that's a pretty decent lap, especially after watching what some of the other guys did."

Sterling Marlin grabbed fourth in the No. 40 Ganassi Dodge.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s lap of 184.381 mph safely places him fifth for Saturday night's Pepsi 400. Earnhardt was two miles an hour slower than his Busch series qualifying time. He rolls off from the catbird seat for the Winn Dixie 250 Friday night.

"We're real happy with that," said Earnhardt. "We've had a great weekend here. We're real excited about getting the pole today for the Busch race tomorrow. We were real concerned about getting this car solidly in the field. It's been an unbelievable trip to Daytona the last several times.

"We've just had such a great car down here. This is such a great area and such a great place to come and watch a race, and its fun being out on that racetrack too. Just looking forward to doing some drafting, racing in practice and what not and just try to keep all the sides on the Budweiser Chevrolet and find ourselves in Victory Lane if we're lucky."

Earnhardt is clearly the favorite for Saturday's 400-miler, his Daytona restrictor plate prowess contains three top-ten finishes, including his emotional victory at this event in 2001.

Defending race winner Michael Waltrip takes the green flag from the sixth position.

"We're a little disappointed that we didn't run what we had in practice," said Waltrip. "The car just didn't quite "zing" like it did in practice."

The biggest surprise of the night was former three time pole winner Kenny Schrader in the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge. He posted a lap of 184.241 mph, and will line up seventh.

"We needed to be in the show for sure," said Schrader. "So we didn't throw away the first lap. Everybody on the team has worked hard. I want to give a lot of special thanks to Andy Petree. He really helped us a little bit for this weekend. He's always had a good restrictor plate programs and he got in there and helped us dig a little bit.

"I'm very happy."

The top starting rookie is Jamie McMurray. The No. 42 Ganassi Dodge starts eighth.

"I thought we'd run quite a bit better than that," said McMurray. "But everybody is slowing down. This is the car Casey wrecked in practice at the Daytona 500. The guys went back and put a body on it and did a real good job. This is our best superspeedway car, so we're excited about getting in the race and seeing what we can do."

Rounding out the top ten are Elliott Sadler and Jeremy Mayfield.

Busch series drivers attempting to make the field for the Saturday night's Pepsi 400 didn't fare so well. Shane Hmiel, attempting to make his first ever Winston Cup start, in the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge had mechanical difficulties and failed to make the grid.

"When you lose second and third gear, it's hard to get up to speed," said Hmiel. "Going from first straight to fourth is tough, but we only slowed down a tenth and a half from practice. Considering what happened, that's not bad. I wish we could have got in the show. I appreciate the opportunity. Maybe I'll get another chance one of these days."

The other Busch regulars, David Green and Mike Bliss start 21rst and 32nd respectively. Kerry Earnhardt failed to qualify the No 83 Chevy.

Current series point leader Matt Kenseth, who has only one career top-ten finish at Daytona, took a provisional and starts 37th.

"It's too early to think about it (championship)," said Kenseth. "You're only as good as your last race. We didn't show up here with a real good car and we're not running real good so far, so it's not that big of a lead.

"People think it's a bid deal, but it's not. You can mess that up pretty easily, so we need to concentrate on running better and run good ever week and start winning some of these races."

Forty-seven cars attempted to make the forty-three car field. Failing to make the show were Shane Hmiel, Christian Fittipaldi, Tony Raines and Kerry Earnhardt.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Michael Waltrip , Steve Park , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Christian Fittipaldi , Tony Raines , Jamie McMurray , David Green , Kerry Earnhardt , Shane Hmiel , Andy Petree , Mike Bliss , Elliott Sadler