Alex Bowman may not have an affinity for restrictor-plate racing like his predecessor, but the 24 year old, who succeeded Dale Earnhardt Jr. as driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, still knows the fast way around Daytona International Speedway and showed it by winning the pole in Daytona 500 qualifying Sunday.
Bowman provisionally set the fastest time Round 1, then posted a 195.644 mph lap that bumped Denny Hamlin off the top spot in the second session to earn the pole. It is Bowman’s second career pole and comes in his first start as the full-time driver of the No. 88, taking over for Earnhardt, who retired following the 2017 season.
“I think it’s still a little surreal. It’s a dream come true to get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said. “I never thought it would have happened after the path my career took. I’m so thankful to be able to do this. I’m very blessed to be able to call driving a race car my job, and now to get to drive what I think is the best race car in the business, it’s a dream come true.”
Bowman’s pole is the fourth consecutive for Hendrick, tying a NASCAR record, and its sixth in the past nine years. And at 24 years, nine months and 17 days old, Bowman is third youngest driver to win the pole in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.
The second-place qualifying effort was a Daytona 500-best for Hamlin, the 2016 race winner making his 13th start. He started 11th when he won two years ago.
“I literally am so ecstatic,” Hamlin said. “It’s just so out of the blue because obviously I thought that today was going to be a tough day qualifying. We focused so much on race-trim yesterday.”
Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and rookie William Byron completed the top-five qualifiers. Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.
Defending race winner Kurt Busch qualified 17th. He is seeking to become the first driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s since Sterling Marlin (1994-95) and the fourth overall (Marlin, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough).
Danica Patrick qualified 28th in what is her final scheduled NASCAR start. The only woman to win a Daytona 500 pole (2013) and the highest-finishing woman in the Daytona 500 (eighth) announced in November that the 2017 season would be her last as a full-time driver and would retire completely after competing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 this year.
The remainder of the Daytona 500 starting order will be determined by a pair of 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night.
The ongoing saga regarding whether BK Racing will make it to the Daytona 500 added another chapter with the team unable to post a qualifying lap after failing to pass technical inspection.
The team, owned by Ron Devine, is facing financial difficulties and is being sued by Union Bank & Trust, which alleges that the team defaulted on a loan. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday -- the same day as the Duels -- on whether Devine should maintain controlling interest in BKR or the team should go into receivership.
On the initial entry list, BKR did not list a driver. On Saturday, Gray Gaulding was named to drive the No. 23 Toyota.
David Ragan also did not turn a lap after mechanical gremlins sidelined the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford.
Both Gaulding and Ragan will start last in the Duels qualifying race Thursday night. Regardless of where Ragan finishes in his Duel, he is assured a spot in the Daytona 500 starting lineup. Gaulding’s status is less certain to the ongoing legal issues.
Daytona 500 qualifying results
|9||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||194.045|
|25||Darrell Wallace, Jr.||Chevrolet||191.742|
|26||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||191.481|
|39||Gray Gaulding||Toyota||No speed|
|40||David Ragan||Ford||No speed|