Bill’s son edges Dale’s son for pole at Day­tona

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAN GELSTON

DAY­TONA BEACH, FLA. — It’s im­pos­si­ble to tell the his­tory of NASCAR with­out men­tion­ing El­liott and Earn­hardt.

As the se­ries shifts into a new era, those dis­tin­guished names are out front again and will give the start of the Day­tona 500 a throw­back feel.

Chase El­liott and Dale Earn­hardt Jr. — team­mates and sons of Hall of Fame driv­ers — will start 1-2 and should give a sag­ging se­ries a sorely needed boost this week headed into its mar­quee event.

El­liott nipped Earn­hardt on the fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing lap Sun­day to win his sec­ond straight pole for the Day­tona 500. El­liott turned a lap at 192.872 m.p.h. to just edge Earn­hardt’s speed of 192.864 and be­come the first re­peat pole win­ner in 27 years.

“I don’t re­ally care who it is. I’m not go­ing to feel bad about beat­ing some­body,” El­liott said. “Dale’s a good guy. I’m happy to share the front row with him. Hap­pier to beat him.”

Earn­hardt, long NASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver, had the speed to beat in his tri­umphant re­turn af­ter miss­ing the sec­ond half of last sea­son with a con­cus­sion. He missed the fi­nal 18 races with nau­sea, vi­sion and bal­ance is­sues af­ter at least the fifth con­cus­sion of his ca­reer fol­low­ing a June wreck. He was as sharp as ever in the No. 88 Chevro­let headed into his first race since last July.

“Ain’t much to it. The car does all the work,” he said.

El­liott and Earn­hardt gave Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports and Chevro­let a 1-2 front row for the fifth time in the Day­tona 500.

El­liott, the 21-year-old son of Hall of Fame driver and two-time Day­tona 500 cham­pion Bill El­liott, be­came the youngest Day­tona 500 pole win­ner a year ago and proved in the No. 24 Chevy start­ing first last sea­son was no fluke.

El­liott also made it three straight years for the No. 24 on the pole. Jeff Gor­don won the pole in 2015 in his fi­nal sea­son be­fore he re­tired and turned the car over to El­liott.

The rest of the field will be set Thurs­day in the two qual­i­fy­ing races.

El­liott will lead the field to green and try and avoid the prob­lems that spoiled his Day­tona 500 de­but.

El­liott’s run at a Day­tona 500 vic­tory last sea­son ended in the grass just 19 laps into the race. The front end of his car lifted off the ground, and the rough ride caused enough dam­age that his car had to be towed to the garage. Un­til the wreck, El­liott was the star of Speed­weeks. He fol­lowed the pole with a win in the sec­ond-tier Xfin­ity Se­ries race.

He’s back out front again and ex­pect­ing a bet­ter fin­ish.

“I hope we can just try to get to the end of the 500, next,” El­liott said. “We’ve ob­vi­ously got to get through the Du­els, first. But, just mak­ing it to the end and hav­ing your­self in po­si­tion, ob­vi­ously we’d love to have a shot to win this thing. It would be great and I think we have a car that can do it.”

El­liott’s speed earned team owner Rick Hen­drick his 11th over­all pole in the Day­tona 500.

“My boss man is happy,” Earn­hardt said. “I just talked to him on the phone, and he’s got to be thrilled with hav­ing his cars up front.”

The 42-year-old Earn­hardt got mar­ried in the off-sea­son, wants a fam­ily and said over the week­end that he would a like a “cou­ple of months” to see how he feels be­fore de­cid­ing to sign a con­tract ex­ten­sion.

Earn­hardt starts sec­ond in the first NASCAR race un­der the Mon­ster En­ergy spon­sor­ship ban­ner and the Day­tona 500 is the first un­der the new for­mat that di­vides the race into seg­ments.

NASCAR ditched its knock­out group qual­i­fy­ing for­mat for Day­tona for sin­gle cars mak­ing one qual­i­fy­ing lap.

Af­ter 42 driv­ers had a sched­uled turn, the 12 fastest ad­vanced to the sec­ond round. The two fastest driv­ers in the sec­ond round set the front row. There were 36 driv­ers guar­an­teed a spot be­cause of the char­ter sys­tem. Other things to know about qual­i­fy­ing: WHO’S IN: Beard Mo­tor­sports driver Bren­dan Gaughan and Tommy Bald­win Rac­ing’s El­liott Sadler se­cured spots in the Day­tona 500 as the two fastest driv­ers from teams not locked into the 40-car field.

SUAREZ STRUG­GLE: Daniel Suarez also did not ad­vance to the sec­ond round in his first ca­reer Cup event. Suarez, the only non-Amer­i­can in the Mon­ster En­ergy Cup Se­ries, has be­come a sen­sa­tion in his na­tive Mex­ico. He be­came NASCAR’s first for­eign-born se­ries cham­pion with an Xfin­ity Se­ries ti­tle last sea­son and Joe Gibbs Rac­ing pro­moted him to the No. 19 Toy­ota when Carl Ed­wards abruptly re­tired.

RIGHT CALLS: Alan Gustafson be­cause the first crew chief to win three straight poles since Ernie El­liott in 1985-1987.

TERRY RENNA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dale Earn­hardt Jr., cen­tre left, and Chase El­liott, dis­play their front row tro­phies with their crews af­ter qual­i­fy­ing for the Top 2 po­si­tions in the NASCAR Day­tona 500.

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