When it comes to the pole winner, not much has changed in the Daytona 500 lately.
For the second straight year, it was Chase Elliott winning the pole at Daytona International Speedway in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Hitting a speed of 192.872 mph, he won by only 0.002 seconds over teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“This is really cool,” Elliott said. “Everyone at Hendrick has done a lot of work in the offseason. This team definitely has a knack for these plate races. They showed that with Jeff and then here and Talladega last year. The engine shop is always finding new things. This is proof they are taking the next step.”
After Jeff Gordon’s pole run in 2015, the No. 24 team led by crew chief Alan Gustafson has perfected the 2.5-mile speedway better than all, winning three consecutive Daytona 500 poles.
“I didn’t think we had a shot to be honest,” Gustafson said. “This place is special. I grew up five miles from here, I remember coming here when I was five years old. I really want to win a race here, it would mean so much for this team.”
Earnhardt Jr., in his first race since last July, qualified second in his No. 88 Chevrolet at 192.864 mph [46.665 seconds]. It’s his fourth career front-row start in the Daytona 500.
“I think the guys are a little disappointed, they really wanted to get the pole,” Earnhardt said. “Absolutely thrilled to have an all-Hendrick front row. We will work on the balance in practice this week. A great way to start the week.”
Behind the Hendrick duo was the Fords of Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer followed by Martin Truex Jr. in the top five.
Ty Dillon led his single-car Germain Racing team to Round 2 of the day, qualifying 12th, the highest rookie of the day.
“It was nice for us to raise our flag and let everyone know we’re here. This is a nice start to our year. It means a lot to the guys at the shop that put in so much work.”
The big smiles of the day will likely go to Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler, two XFINITY Series talents who lock themselves into next Sunday’s Daytona 500 on their qualifying speeds. Corey Lajoie and Timmy Hill must race their way in based on Thursday’s Can-Am Duel races.