It came at the hands of different drivers, but it was back to business as usual for Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Friday at Daytona International Speedway. The DEI Chevys of Paul Menard and Mark Martin had the best qualifying times of the day and will...
It came at the hands of different drivers, but it was back to business as usual for Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Friday at Daytona International Speedway.
The DEI Chevys of Paul Menard and Mark Martin had the best qualifying times of the day and will lead the field to the green flag in Saturday's Coke Zero 400. Regan Smith also chipped in with the eighth fastest time in his DEI 01 machine.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip won five times for DEI during a dominant four-year stretch here.
"Our plate track program has come a long ways," said Menard, who had a fast lap time of 185.916 miles per hour. "The last couple of years we just haven't qualified that good. The RCR engines are giving us more horsepower and it was just a matter of putting it all together. I couldn't be happier for all the guys. For the driver, all we have to do is hold it wide open and turn the wheel as little as possible. It's easy for us and hard for everyone else so my hat's off to them."
Menard's previous best starting position was 13th at Dover last month. He is looking for his first top 10 finish of the season.
"We didn't even do a qualifying run so I had no idea how we would do by ourselves," Menard admitted. "The car was fast in the draft but it didn't drive as well as I would have liked. We made an adjustment right at the end. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night."
It was also quite a day for Martin. Earlier on Friday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that they had signed the veteran driver to drive the No. 5 car full time next season and then Martin qualified his DEI Chevy second.
He said that Friday's success was a tribute to the work of the people at DEI, especially in the engine department.
"This team has been just unbelievable," Martin said. "You have to have big steam under the hood to do that. I'm really proud to drive for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and represent the Army. I'm having a blast working with this team. These guys are just awesome."
Martin said that he is looking forward to joining Hendrick's powerhouse team that also includes defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I can't describe the honor that I feel to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports," Martin said. "The organization is the top of NASCAR and to be invited is pretty incredible. I'm living a dream now. I really feel like I have a better understanding of what I want to do in life. I want to drive fast race cars. I wasn't expecting this but I really am excited."
Earnhardt will start third here for the second time in a row.
"It was good," said Earnhardt, who led 12 laps and finished ninth in the Daytona 500. "I was really happy with my lap. We had some strong power here and February and we brought it back for this race. We're going to have a good week."
Joe Nemechek qualified fourth and is looking for his first top 10 finish of the season.
"The guys are working hard," Nemechek said. "This is a new car and we just tried to get it going. We struggled a bit in practice yesterday but our last run we picked up a bit. We threw everything at it."
Johnny Sauter needed to qualify on time and laid down the fifth fastest time of the day. It's his best starting position in five Sprint Cup races this season.
"Daytona is always a good time and I love restrictor plate racing," Sauter said. "We were pretty good yesterday in practice and knew that we would have a good lap. It's a comforting feeling when you go to qualify and have a fast car. I'm glad to be here."
David Ragan qualified sixth.
"I'm pretty happy with our AAA Ford," Ragan said. "Usually qualifying at Daytona or Talladega is usually about how well they prepare the race car at the shop and they did a great job. I'm very fortunate to be down here and having some fun. I hope our car is even better for Saturday night."
Boris Said had the fastest qualifying time for this race last year before rain washed out qualifying and he was forced to watch it from the sidelines. He will make his second start of the season after qualifying seventh.
"As long as we got to qualify, we knew that we'd have a good shot at it," he said. "We ran great yesterday in practice and we were just worrying about our qualifying set up. I love this place. Every time we come down here our Ford Fusion is really fast."
Points leader Kyle Busch will start ninth while Patrick Carpentier, who won the pole last weekend at Loudon, rounded out the top 10. He will make his first start at Daytona.
Martin Truex Jr. was the only DEI car that struggled on Friday. He was forced to qualify in a backup car after his primary car was confiscated by NASCAR when it failed inspection. His qualifying lap was his first lap here this weekend and he will start 37th.
"It's pretty much the same deal as when you get here and unload off the trailer," Truex said. "You just go out there and run what it will. It's a lot easier here than it would be at a downforce track. It's usually whatever you've got when you unload is what you've got. It's hard to put this out of your mind. It's a pretty big deal. It hurts but it's not the end of the world."
Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in February and visited his winning car at Daytona USA earlier in the day.
"It was pretty neat to go in there and see it," said Newman, who qualified 34th for Saturday. "You still kind of get that tingle. It's a great feeling and just to go back to see that car was good."
Kurt Busch won last week at New Hampshire and had the fastest car in practice on Thursday but he blew out his right front tire during an extended run and crashed heavily into Turn 2. He was forced to qualify in his backup car and qualified 38th.
Jamie McMurray won this race last year but will have his work cut out for him to repeat after qualifying 42nd.
"That's the car we won with last year so hopefully that's a good omen for us," McMurray said. "This has been a really good track for me. I just feel comfortable coming to Daytona and for some reason the July race has always been a better race for me."
J.J. Yeley and Scott Riggs missed the cut.