It turned out to be an all Hendrick Motorsports front row for the Daytona 500, with sophomore racer Chase Elliott and veteran Dale Earnhardt, Jr. locking in their starting 1-2 positions for the ‘Great American Race’ this Sunday.
Elliott ran a speed of 192.872 mph (46.663 seconds) to Earnhardt’s nearly identical lap of 192.864 mph, which equaled out to have a two-thousandths of a second (.002) margin of separation.
The rest of the top 12 from qualifying were Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon.
“Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season,” said Elliott, who claimed his third Coors Light Pole Award of his career, second in a row for the 500 and third in a row for the 24 car. “This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks, as they showed with Jeff Gordon and then last year with here and Talladega (where Elliott also won the pole).
“But that stuff doesn’t just happen by staying the same, as everybody knows. Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster, and the engine shop is always finding new things. So, I think that’s just proof that they’re improving with everybody else and taking that next step, which is really impressive. I’m happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can run good next Sunday.”
Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who grew up in the shadow of the speedway residing in nearby Ormond Beach as a young man, now shares a record of three consecutive Daytona 500 poles previously held solely by Ernie Elliott, Chase Elliott’s uncle, who fielded cars driven by former Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, Chase’s father.
Earnhardt is racing for the first time since a concussion sidelined him for the final 18 events of the 2016 season. The satisfaction of locking in a front-row starting position tempered his disappointment at missing the pole by the slimmest of margins.
“I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man (Rick Hendrick) is happy,” said Earnhardt. “I think my guys are a little disappointed. They really wanted to get the pole. I’m disappointed too, but I’m absolutely thrilled to have an all-Hendrick front row. I just talked to him on the phone, and he’s got to be thrilled with having his cars up front.”
Elliott will lead the field in the first Can-Am Dual, followed by Earnhardt, Jr. in the second race that will be on Thursday, Feb. 23 starting at 7 p.m. on FS1.