Chase Elliott was always going to face heightened expectations in his first full year in NASCAR's top division, that's what happens when you replace Jeff Gordon, who retired following the conclusion of the 2015 season.
And while one qualifying session doesn't guarantee Elliott will become a future champion like Gordon or his own father, Bill Elliott, a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Chase Elliott did make a dramatic first impression driving the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet by winning the Daytona 500 pole Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
"This is a very, very cool day," Elliott said. "I don't know that this opportunity has sunk in yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500. So this is very cool. ... This is very special and a great way to start the season."
Elliott's speed of 196.314 mph in the second of two knockout sessions edged Matt Kenseth (196.036) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (195.682), who qualified second and third, respectively. The 20-year-old becomes the youngest pole-sitter in race history, and joins Loy Allen Jr., Mike Skinner, Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Austin Dillion to win the Daytona 500 pole as a rookie.
Bill Elliott is also a four-time Daytona 500 pole-sitter making him and Chase the fourth father-son to take the No. 1 starting position in NASCAR's marquee event. They join Richard and Kyle Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to do so.
The speedy run by Elliott mimics Gordon capturing the pole for the 2015 Daytona 500, a race he led 81 laps driving the same car Elliott wheeled Sunday.
"Daytona 500 qualifying day is such an opportunity for the teams to show what they've done in the offseason," Elliott said. "The kind of work ethic they have, the amount of hours, the massaging they put in these racecars to find those extra hundredths and thousandths of a second that are so crucial on qualifying day.
"I don't feel like it's about me. Nothing special I did to earn it. It's about those guys, the kind of car they brought to the racetrack."
Only Elliott and Kenseth are assured their starting positions, with the remainder of the starting set in twin qualifying races Thursday night.
By virtue of their qualifying times, Ryan Blaney (seventh fastest) and Matt DiBenedetto (26th) locked themselves into the 40-car field, as they were the top two speeds among teams not possessing a charter guaranteeing 36 teams automatic entry into every race. The two highest finishing drivers for non-chartered teams in Thursday's qualifiers earn the remaining two positions in the Feb. 21 season-opener.
"The biggest relief for us is to know you are locked in and are good to be able to race in the 500," Blaney said. "That kind of lets us go race on Thursday a little bit more than we would have instead of playing it conservative if we weren't locked in. It is nice to have such a fast car and be locked into the race. It is a load off our shoulders for sure."
One driver, Martin Truex Jr., failed to post a speed due to a rules violation found as the No. 78 car sat on pit road with Truex readying to qualify. NASCAR officials deemed the right roof flap on the Furniture Row entry was out of alignment, requiring the team to report immediately to technical inspection where the vehicle was impounded.
"I don't know what the hell happened?" Truex said. "I was sitting in the car and they told me to get out. It makes no sense."
Truex is not endanger of missing the Daytona 500, as Furniture Row holds a charter. But Truex, the fourth-place championship finisher last season, will have to start at the rear of his Thursday qualifying race and crew chief Cole Pearn could face disciplinary measures.
"I guess an issue with the right-side roof flap going down as far as it needs to, but I'm not really sure how it ended up that way or what changed us down pit road," Pearn said. "Whatever, either way we ran it back here for whatever reason. We'll see what (NASCAR) do and hopefully have a good rest of Speedweeks."
The times of Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, were disallowed due to track bars found outside the permitted allowance in post-qualifying inspection. Harvick had qualified 16th, Vickers 21st. Both will start at the back of their respective qualifying race.