NASCAR: Rain gives pole to Stewart
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ó Tony Stewart will start from a familiar spot tonight at Daytona International Speedway.
The Sprint Cup points leader was awarded the pole for the Coke Zero 400 when rain washed out qualifying Friday.
It was Stewart’s third pole ó all in rainouts ó in the last five races. He also started up front at Pocono last month and New Hampshire last week.
“It really doesn’t matter anyway,” he said. “In a Cup race, if your car is good enough to get to the front, you can do it from dead last, so it really doesn’t matter if you start from the pole or not. The advantage is it gives us a good pit selection. That’s what helps. Other than that, it’s really not an issue.”
Starting from the front has proven beneficial for Stewart, though. His first points-race win as a driver/car owner came at Pocono, and he finished fifth at New Hampshire. His only Daytona pole came in July 2005, when he won his first race at NASCAR’s most famous track.
Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin rounded out the first three rows.
Max Papis and Mike Wallace were sent home, unable to attempt to get into the 43-car field. Wallace was scheduled to drive the No. 64 car, the one some believed recently reinstated driver Jeremy Mayfield would try to get into to make his return from a drug suspension.
Car owner Larry Gunselman, citing sponsorship concerns, declined to offer Mayfield a ride.
The field was set by owner’s points for the fourth time this season. Qualifying at Martinsville in March also was rained out.
Brad Keselowski, Scott Speed, David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney, Patrick Carpentier, Tony Raines and Regan Smith were the beneficiaries of the rain. They all earned automatic starting spots instead of having to qualify on speed.
Greg Biffle and Sam Hornish Jr. will have to start from the back of the field. They were involved in a crash during practice Thursday night, forcing both into backup cars. And under NASCAR rules, cars unable to turn any laps during practice or qualifying have to start at the back of the pack because of safety concerns.
“They don’t want us starting up there if the transmission sticks in gear, or the brakes don’t work, or we’re leaking oil or the steering locks up,” Biffle said. “There’s a part of me that doesn’t mind starting in the back so I can figure out on my own and then start working through traffic.”