Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from pole position, after Saturday afternoon's qualifying session was first delayed and then cancelled because of electrical storms in the Daytona Beach area.

CLICK: Full starting grid for Sunday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway

Despite menacing clouds over Daytona International Speedway there was a conspicuous absence of much in the way of precipitation. However, with lightning strikes reported as close as three miles away from the 2.5-mile circuit, organisers ordered that spectators clear the grandstands and that teams, drivers, track officials and media personnel should leave the in-field area for their own safety.

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After almost two and a half hours in a holding pattern, word finally came down from race control that the session had been abandoned without a wheel being turned. The cancellation of qualifying meant that the starting grid was set according to the times recorded by drivers in Friday's first practice session.

Earnhardt had topped the timesheets for the session with the fastest lap of the day clocking in at 44.492s (202.284mph) in the Hendrick Motorsports #88. He was 0.048s faster than Austin Dillon, meaning that the Richard Childress Racing #33 will line up alongside Earnhardt on the front row for the start of Sunday afternoon's race.

Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer will start from third place alongside RCR's Paul Menard, with the third row comprised of Roush Fenway Racing's Trevor Bayne and Front Row Motorsports' David Gilliland.

AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing) and David Ragan (MWR) line up in seventh and eighth followed by Jame McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Kasey Kahne (HMS), Sam Hornish Jr. (Richard Petty Motorports) and Jimmie Johnson (HMS).

Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch will start from 13th place despite having been involved in a multi-car wreck ten minutes into the first practice session determining the grid order.

Less fortunate is the Stewart-Haas Racing line-up. Although the four cars went on to top the second practice on Friday, they did not feature nearly so highly in the relevant first session: Danica Patrick will start from 27th alongside team mate Kurt Busch, with team co-owner Tony Stewart in 31st place alongside Penske's Brad Keselowski and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick relegated to 34th place alongside Keselowski' team mate Joey Logano.

The cancellation of qualifying meant that two entries not guaranteed a place on the 43-car grid through owner points and number of starting attempts were unable to race their way into the Coke Zero 400 based on their raw pace in qualifying.

"It's unfortunate we didn't get a chance to qualify," aid Ryan Blaney, driver of the Wood Brothers #21 entry. "I was really looking forward to qualifying and getting into the race. Some stuff we can't control and this is one of them.

"This is the bad part about running part time," he added. "If this happens you're out. Our next race is Kentucky next week and I'm looking forward to that one."

"We've been lucky," said team co-owner Eddie Wood. "This is the first time this has happened since we started part time in 2009. We've dodged a lot of bullets, including last time in Michigan. This one got us. Even though it didn't rain it's going to and lightning is a problem. Safety first."

Also left on the sidelines because of the cancellation of qualifying was the Leavine Family Racing #95 driven by Michael McDowell.

The 160-lap, 400-mile race gets underway on Sunday evening at 7.45pm local time (12.45am BST).

In the meantime, the lack of actual rain means that the Xfinity Series is still expected to go ahead on Saturday night with the slow-moving storm clouds forecast to have cleared the area by the time that Daniel Suarez is due to lead the field to the green flag for the floodlit evening event.

See full starting grid for Sunday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway