New procedures, new pole winner

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 21, 2014 

— NASCAR’s first use of its new qualifying procedures this season produced a first-time pole winner.

The Nationwide Series was the first to use the new “knockout” qualifying procedure sending all cars out on the track for 30 minutes to post lap speeds before whittling the field to the 12 fastest.

Intermittent rain on Friday at Daytona International Speedway prevented the two elimination rounds, so the field for Saturday’s Drive4CPOD 300 (1:15 p.m., ESPN) was set by the speeds in the first 30-minute session.

Turner Scott Motorsports swept the first three positions with rookie Dylan Kwasniewski taking the pole, followed by Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick.

The three drafted together early in the session, which produced Kwasniewski’s fast lap of 192.078 mph.

Kwasniewski became the first rookie contender to earn a pole at Daytona in his Nationwide debut since Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace did it in 1985.

“It’s pretty surreal. Danica did a fantastic job of getting us through the pack and getting us clean through there and we just had to hang on to the back,” he said.

“Obviously, Turner Scott Motorsports did a great job of getting us ready for this. The qualifying was definitely a change – I liked it a lot.”

Kwasniewski, 18, is making his debut in the Nationwide series this season after winning the K&N Pro Series West and East titles, respectively, the past two seasons.

Because of rain, the elimination rounds of qualifying never took place, but the condensed 30-minute session did allow the field to be set by speeds rather than the rulebook. Typically, single-car qualifying runs at restrictor-plate tracks can last upwards of 2 1/2 hours.

“For my first time at Daytona, getting the pole, it’s an unexplainable feeling,” Kwasniewski said.

Kyle Busch ended the session posting the fourth-fastest speed and Elliott Sadler was fifth.

Larson said he thought the new qualifying process was “a lot of fun.”

“There were a few hairy moments during our laps where we went through middle of two different groups,” he said. “I had to check up and hit the brake, so I wasn’t sure how our laps was going to be.”

Larson is hoping for a better outcome in this race than a year ago, when his car was sent airborne and into the frontstretch catchfence. Parts from cars in the wreck ended up in the grandstands, injuring two dozen fans.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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