Front Row is Sweet for Robert Yates at Daytona

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Front Row is Sweet for Robert Yates at Daytona
If you haven't caught on that NASCAR is mainstream, or think that sponsorship is always beer- or tool-related, check out the front row for this Sunday's 49th Annual Daytona 500.
 
It's bound to touch your sweet tooth.
 
After suffering through a miserable season in which he lost both his drivers and his sponsor UPS to other teams, Robert Yates finally has reason to smile: His candy-sponsored Ford Fusion's took the top two qualifying positions for the Great American Race on Sunday. 
 
Young David Gilliland put his M&Ms car on the pole with a speed of 186.320 mph, slightly better than 50-year-old teammate Ricky Rudd, who returns to Cup competition in the Snickers machine after a one-year hiatus. 

 

Gilliland looked solid in practice sessions and was expected to vie for the coveted pole position in his first Cup race at Daytona. He finished second in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, then set the bar for the other 60 entrants in Sunday qualifying. Gilliland took over the number 38 ride last summer after negotiations between Yates and Evernham Motorsports allowed Elliot Sadler to depart RYR for a seat in the number 19 Dodge. 

 
With the pole position, Gilliland will lead off the first of the two Duel 150s on Thursday, but will not have to worry about his finishing position. That means he can concentrate on gaining valuable race-condition experience—and on keeping his car in one piece.
 
David started more than 13 races last year, so he's not in contention for Rookie of the Year honors in the Nextel Cup series.
 
Rudd, on the other hand, was NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1977—a year after Gilliland was born.
 
The veteran now finds himself back with Yates, for whom he drove from 2000 until 2002, when a disagreement ended the relationship. Rudd went on to drive the famed number 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers, then decided to take the year off in 2006. (He did substitute for Tony Stewart at Dover in June.) Before his self-imposed respite, Rudd had broken Terry Labonte's NASCAR durability record and now holds the "Iron Man" title with 788 consecutive starts between 1981 and 2005.
 
Rudd's Snickers Fusion will lead off the second of Thursday's Duels, and his spot aside Gilliland is set for Sunday's 500. Having taken the season off, this will be Rudd's first superspeedway start in almost a year and a half, and the 150-mile race on Thursday will allow him to re-hone his skills on Daytona's banks.
 
Rudd begins the 2007 campaign with 23 career wins and a season-best finish of second in 1991. His last 500 run in 2005 saw him start 11th before finishing 24th.
 
Chip Ganassi Racing also had a strong qualifying session on Sunday, with driver David Stremme clocking a third-best 185.487 mph and Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race-winner Juan Pablo Montoya turning in a lap at 185.338.
 
After taking over the number 6 AAA Ford from Mark Martin, rookie David Ragan posted the fifth-best speed at 185.300 mph.  Martin left Roush Racing to take a part-time ride in the number 01 U.S. Army Chevy for Ginn Motorsports—and was 33rd on Sunday.

 

Another notable Sunday run saw road-course ringer Boris Said qualify at 185.212 in his SoBe No Fear Ford, sixth overall and best of the cars having to time-in on speed. Said finished just ahead of three-time 500 champion Jeff Gordon, with  Sterling Marlin, Johnny Sauter, and defending 500 and Nextel Cup champ Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 10.

 
Starting positions three through 43 will be determined by how cars finish in the Duel 150 races on Thursday, with only the front row set after Sunday.
 
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