Rookies Struggle in Daytona 500 Qualifying

Christopher Bell
NEWTON, IOWA - JUNE 16: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Ruud Toyota, poses with the winner's sticker after the NASCAR Xfinity Series CircuitCity.com 250 Presented by Tamron at Iowa Speedway on June 16, 2019 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The 2020 rookie class is unbelievable when it comes to talent.

The whole NASCAR community has been buzzing about this class but, and rightfully so, but the rookies struggled in Daytona 500 Qualifying on Sunday.

Last season as Xfinity Series stars the “Big 3”, as they were commonly called, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick made the move to the Cup series for 2020.

The fourth driver to watch is John Hunter Nemechek joining the three as stars from the Xfinity series last year. Quin Houff and Brennan Poole will round out the 2020 rookie class.

When it came to Daytona 500 Qualifying though, the rookies struggled. Only one driver made the top 10 and two hit the top 15. They weren’t bad in qualifying, it’s just that none were spectacular.

In fact the only time there was a rookie at the top of the board was when Reddick went to the top, before being bumpedĀ  by eventual pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Bell and Custer Quickest Rookies In Daytona 500 Qualifying

Oklahoma native and rising star Christopher Bell broke nearly every Xfinity Series record in his short time driving for Hall of Fame Owner and Coach Joe Gibbs.

Bell made the jump to the Cup Series this season with help from Gibbs to stay in the Toyota camp at Levine Family Racing. His talents and speed were on display Sunday when Bell went P10 and will start 5th in Thursday’s Dual race. Bell put down a lap of 192.234 MPH to be 10th quickest.

Levine Family Racing showed speed in last year’s Great American Race with then driver Matt DiBenedetto. The team led the most laps before crashing out late in the running. Bell steps in with talent and speed, the combination could pay off next Sunday.

Stewart-Haas Racing made the decision to bring up Cole Custer to the Cup Series after a break 2019 campaign in the Xfinity Series. Custer replaced Daniel Suarez in the 41 Ford and he too showed solid speed. The California driver went P14 in Daytona 500 qualifying with a speed of 191.812 m.p.h.

The lap was just ticks off fellow SHR teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. It showed what Custer can do and made an early statement.

The positions right now mean only one thing, what race you’ll be in for the Duels on Thursday. This will not set up the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 like other events do. Instead, the races on Thursday will set up who starts where for Sunday. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Alex Bowman by virtue of their qualifying efforts are locked into their spots on the front row.

Speed or Handling?

The Daytona 500 is an impound race meaning no team can make adjustments to the car before the drop of the green flag for the race. This means the teams had to make a choice to go all out for qualifying or save some handling for the race. That could be part of why the rest of the rookie class struggled in qualifying.

One driver many didn’t expect to see struggle in qualifying was Tyler Reddick. Reddick moved from the Richard Childress Racing Xfinity team to replace Daniel Hemric in the #8 car at the Cup Series. Reddick won the 2018 and 2019 Xfinity Series Championships with JR Motorsports in 2018 and RCR last season.

Sunday’s qualifying attempt showed a flash of hope as Reddick laid down a lap of 191.559 and went to the top. Not long after was when Stenhouse Jr. laid down the best lap of the day and Reddick slid backwards. After it was all said and done, Reddick finished 18th and just over seven-tenths off of the pole position. This won’t be Reddick’s first 500 start as he drove a 3rd RCR car in last year’s race only to crash out after a mishap on pit road.

John Hunter Nemechek went out early and showed immediate speed in his Front Row Motorsports Ford as he and teammate Michael McDowell went 1-2 for quite sometime. The two drivers were deadlocked on time but as more cars went out the further down the list they dropped. Nemecheck ultimately will finish 25th in qualifying for his first Daytona 500. He will look to improve on that during the Duels on Thursday.

Quin Houff and Brennan Poole both struggled even more as they finished qualifying in 38th and 40th respectively and both were over two seconds off the pace.

Don’t Sweat It

The nice thing about qualifying for the Daytona 500 is that there is a chance to improve your spot before the race on Sunday. They will have a chance on Thursday to race the Duels and see if they can go up in the starting order. We all know how good Reddick was on the superspeedways last year in the Xfinity Series maybe he will be the one to watch in Thursday’s duels. Or it could be Bell and Custer using their higher starting spots to their advantage and getting through the field much easier.

Each of these rookies have something they want to prove and the first step is complete. Will the rookies grow during the Duals or will they start their first race of their first season in Cup with spots towards the chaos in the middle?

Which rookie will prove that this was all a fluke and make his way towards the front in the Daytona 500? Tune in Sunday to find out as the action gets started on FOX at 2:30 EST and radio broadcast on MRN. Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels will begin on FS1 and MRN at 7pm EST to set the lineup for the 62nd annual Daytona 500.

Final qualifying results from Sunday’s Busch Pole Daytona 500 Qualifying.

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