That dark time saw Yates lose his drivers, a sponsor and both of his crew chiefs in a tumultuous year that saw the once-proud team collapse to the point that Yates was convinced he was dying. But just like a true racer, the car owner refused to close shop and fought to keep the family business on the track. He handed the keys to his twocars to Gilliland, an unproven rookie, and Rudd, the Iron Man of NASCAR who spent last year out of racing and mowing the 30 acres of grass on his North Carolina farm. They proved Sunday that there’s life in this Yates team, after all. Gilliland turned a lap of 186.320 mph to win the pole, and Rudd was right behind at 185.609 to put themselves on the front row for the season-opening Daytona 500 next Sunday. “It’s like a dream that I’m afraid to wake up from,” said Gilliland, coming off Saturday night’s second-place finish in the exhibition Budweiser Shootout. David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd won the top two starting spots Sunday in qualifying for the Daytona 500, putting Yates back on the racing map after a horrendous season. “There was a time last year when I felt like I maybe was the problem, and wasn’t in love with it and really wanted to leave (racing),” Yates said. “I could have walked out of here last year. I want this next year to get this thing up, get the sky that was falling on us, get it up.” Gilliland and Rudd were the only two drivers to lock down their starting spots under a complicated qualifying procedure for NASCAR’s biggest event of the year that was marred when Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne’s cars failed inspection and Michael Waltrip’s was impounded because of a suspicious part. The top 35 drivers from 2006 are assured a spot in the 500, but their starting position will be determined by a pair of qualifying races Thursday. It leaves eight other spots to fill, and 26drivers are vying for them. Dale Jarrett is guaranteed one of them by virtue of the past-champions provisional, as are the threefastest drivers in qualifying from that group. That caveat promised Boris Said, Sterling Marlin and Johnny Sauter spots in the race. Toyota, which is making its Nextel Cup debut this season, had a horrendous qualifying effort and will need brilliant qualifying races to get the bulk of its Camrys into the field. Jarrett is in, along with Dave Blaney, who earned a berth because of his 2006 standings. But the rest of the bunch struggled, including Waltrip, whose intake manifold was confiscated at the start of the day because inspectors found a questionable substance inside the part. Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, was 25th in qualifying and his Camry was later impounded. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” Waltrip insisted. “We just had an oil problem of some sort.” David Reutimann was the best of the Toyota bunch at 15th, and was followed by Jeremy Mayfield (16th), Mike Skinner (18th), Waltrip, Blaney (39th), A.J. Allmendinger (40th), Brian Vickers (45th) and Jarrett (50th). Juan Pablo Montoya flirted with the front row, putting his new No. 42 Dodge in the secondspot only to be bumped from it moments later by teammate David Stremme. Stremme ended up third and Montoya was fourth, but teammate Reed Sorenson was a disappointing 44th after blowing a battery in his car on his secondqualifying lap. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Robert Yates Racing went from skid row to the front row, emerging from the darkest season in team history to take the Daytona500 spotlight. At least for a week.