Elliott Sadler survived a green white chequered flag finish to win Thursday's opening Gatorade 150 qualifier at the Daytona International Speedway as the Ford Fusion won its first NASCAR event.
Delayed by more than an hour, the first 60-lap qualifier contained plenty of drama as Sadler used a lightning fast mid-race pit stop to lead the final 36 laps of a race that was also stopped briefly shortly after half distance when light rain reappeared.
Carl Edwards followed Sadler for the majority of the final ten laps after surviving a near miss with Jimmie Johnson on turn three on lap 50 and crossed the line in second place with Dale Earnhardt Jr third after overcoming early handling woes.
Jimmie Johnson proved that he could still get the job done without the guidance of Chad Knaus as he finished fourth, despite a couple of mid-race scares in turn three, notably with Edwards and Sterling Marlin. Matt Kenseth, who started from the rear of the 29 car field after his tyre problem in Bud Pole qualifying, rallied to finish fifth ahead of former Roush teammate Kurt Busch, pole sitter Jeff Burton and defending Nextel Cup Champion Tony Stewart, whose bid for victory wasn't helped by a loose wheel following his first stop, which required a second pit stop shortly after the red flag for rain was removed.
As expected, the fight for the two 'transfer' spots into Sunday's Daytona 500 was fierce, with Kevin Lepage, Bill Elliott, Mike Skinner, Chad Chaffin and Derrike Cope all featuring prominently.
Chaffin's brave bid to get his #92 Front Row Motorsports Chevrolet into Sunday's big race ended with a spectacular tyre failure on lap 56, a failure that mirrored that of Paul Menard earlier in the race. Like Menard, Chaffin's bid for glory was over, although the debris from the front of his #92 machine played a further role in the race as Sterling Marlin ploughed into the back of a rapidly slowing Dale Jarrett under caution as the leaders swerved to avoid running over the mess.
The two lap restart saw Lepage, Skinner, Cope and Elliott all locked together, with Elliott's fresher tyres enabling him to get around Skinner and finish second behind an elated Lepage in the 'race within a race.' Behind Elliott, who was already guaranteed a spot in Sunday's race thanks to his qualifying time, Skinner and Cope barged together on the run to the flag but their efforts were in vain.
Lepage guaranteed his #61 Peak Performance team a spot in the Daytona 500 while Bill Elliott's run actually guaranteed Robby Gordon, fifth fastest in qualifying among the non top-35 teams and not even in the first Gatorade race, a place in Sunday's race.
In addition to Chaffin, Menard, Skinner and Cope, Larry Gunselman, Larry Foyt, Andy Belmont and Randy LaJoie also failed to qualify for Sunday's race and while Hermie Sadler chose to retire his overheating car early in the race, his qualifying time had already guaranteed him a spot in Sunday's race.
Chaffin and Menard's punctures and Marlin's brush with Jarrett aside, there were no other caution flag worthy incidents, with drivers appearing to obey NASCAR's rules regarding bump drafting in the specific 'no bumping' zones, namely in the turns and tri-oval. However, after examining the tyres from Menard, Chaffin and several others, NASCAR may have another problem on its hands on Sunday.