Rain helps David Gilliland pull off qualifying upset for Coke Zero 400

David Gilliland swept to the pole for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway -- with an assist from the rain.

Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

The first attempt at knockout qualifying at Daytona International Speedway was one of the strangest Daytona qualifying sessions to date, as many drivers worried more about strategy than laying down a fast lap.

At times, cars were crawling around the speedway as they worked on the various strategies, trying to build packs and block the strong runs of other packs — and then, shortly after Round 1 was completed, the rains came. That left David Gilliland, a driver for Front Row Motorsports, on the pole for the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night as he recorded the fastest lap before the last two schedule rounds of qualifying were washed out.

Working together with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first round, Gilliland, Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill and Bobby Labonte leap-frogged the Hendrick Motorsports cars of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to sit first through fourth on the leaderboard.

Despite a late push by a large pack, the top five remained the same at the end of Round 1.

Among those not advancing to the second round were Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.

As crews prepared to go out for the second round, rain returned to the speedway, leading NASCAR to end the qualifying session early. With qualifying shortened by rain, Gilliland earned his third-career Sprint Cup Series pole.

Thanks to the rain, Reed Sorenson recorded his second front row starting spot in 207 career races. 

Joe Nemechek was the only car not to qualify for Saturday night’s race.

Michael McDowell went to the top of the charts early in the session as the various groups of cars tried to gain momentum and break the momentum of the other packs.

Ryan Newman pulled a large pack around in the opening round of the qualifying session, but pulled to pit road when the plan did not work out. Moments later, he and another group of Richard Childress Racing and RCR-powered cars grouped up for one more run, but could only record the 20th-fastest time.

With the varying strategies, there were multiple close calls on the track as cars bobbed and weaved their way through slower cars around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, but the entire session ran without incident.

After climbing from their cars, many drivers struggled to understand what exactly took place during the qualifying session.

Brian Vickers, who qualified 30th, called the strange qualifying session a mess and said he was surprised nobody wrecked while running the various strategies.

One of the best qualifiers so far in 2014, Joey Logano failed to advance from the first round for only the second time this year. The other time he failed to advance was the other restrictor-plate race at Talladega. The Team Penske driver called Friday’s qualifying session "pretty dumb."