Dylan Kwasniewski follows Danica Patrick to Daytona pole

Veteran driver Elliott Sadler called it “a lot harrier than I thought.”

To Kyle Busch, it was “just chaos at first,” but fun.

However they expressed it, drivers agreed that NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format, introduced for the first time in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series time trials, added spice and excitement to the process of ordering the field for Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

And it put 18-year-old rookie Dylan Kwasniewski on the pole.

“It’s pretty surreal, actually, to be sitting up here talking to you guys,” said Kwasniewski, who notched his first Coors 21 Means 21 pole award in his first attempt at a Nationwide race.

Kwasniewski ran a lap at 192.078 mph (46.856 seconds around the 2.5-mile track) as the caboose in a three-car train that included Turner Scott Motorsports teammates Danica Patrick (third in qualifying at 192.033 mph) and Kyle Larson (second at 192.074 mph).

Kwasniewski credited Patrick with leading the trio around the track and dodging a knot of traffic on the backstretch — something that was never an issue in the single-car qualifying that now is a thing of the past.

“I was looking at this sea of cars,” Kwasniewski said. “It looked like an army in there. Coming up to it, I was like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to navigate through this. We might get blocked out.’ But somehow she (Patrick) picked it just right.

“She shot the middle really good, and we were able to get through there cleanly. I was amazed we got through there, not only that we put up that fast of a lap. She did a great job of guiding us though there safely, and it was definitely a team effort to put up these fast times.”

Though Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 16th, would prefer to preserve the traditional single-car format for Daytona 500 qualifying, as NASCAR did this year, he enjoyed the multi-car session, which was interrupted by rain.

Scheduled second and third sessions of 10 and five minutes were canceled, with the field set by times in the first session.

“I think it’s a great format for the rest of the season, and for the fans it’s very exciting,” Earnhardt said. “It’s definitely more interesting than what we typically do.”

Fourth-place qualifier Kyle Busch said it took some time to gauge what was happening on the track.

“It was quite a handful — a lot going on,” Busch said. “There’s not enough TV cameras or TV coverage that can cover everybody’s situation. So it’s just chaos at first. You’re sitting at the end of pit road trying to figure it all out, what was going to happen, then trying to get out there, get in a groove and get a good enough tow and have the help behind you to make a big lap.

“All in all, I think it was fun. We qualified a heck of a lot better than we would have single-car, so you can’t help but have a smile on your face for that.”