By­ron barely edges Bow­man for 1st pole

Hen­drick team­mates race through mist to se­cure their po­si­tions in the front row

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS MONDAY - By Edgar Thomp­son

DAY­TONA BEACH — Wil­liam By­ron’s pole win at the Day­tona 500 is a first for the 21-year-old, but noth­ing new for leg­endary car owner Rick Hen­drick.

By­ron now looks to cap­i­tal­ize on his first time in the No. 1 po­si­tion in the NASCAR Cup series and ig­nite what Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports hopes will be a turn­around sea­son.

Hen­drick’s im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of driv­ers got the 2019 sea­son off to a fast start Sun­day dur­ing an over­cast, misty day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Driv­ing the No. 24 car made fa­mous by three-time 500 win­ner Jeff Gor­don, By­ron set the tone for the four-man team, turn­ing a lap at 194.305 mph to edge team­mate and 2018 pole-sit­ter Alex Bow­man by fewer than two-tenths of a sec­ond.

By­ron and Bow­man locked in the 1-2 po­si­tions on the front row for the Great Amer­i­can Race, set for 2:30 p.m. next Sun­day. The rest of the 40-car field will be de­ter­mined dur­ing Thurs­day’s Day­tona Du­els.

“This is kind of the first step of our process to­gether, so hope­fully it goes well next Sun­day,” By­ron said. “We can kind of chill out through­out the Duel races and learn a lit­tle bit. I’m look­ing for­ward to it. “This is awe­some.” By­ron’s strong show­ing con­tin­ued Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports’ dom­i­nance dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing at the Day­tona 500.

By­ron is the record fifth straight pole-sit­ter for the team and ninth over­all, ty­ing the record of Petty En­ter­prises.

“This is the deal, sit­ting up front at Day­tona,” Hen­drick said.

In fact, the top four fin­ish­ers Sun­day race for the iconic owner. Af­ter fin­ish­ing 10th in the Day­tona Beach Half Marathon ear­lier in the day, vet­eran Jim­mie John­son fin­ished third in qual­i­fy­ing, a spot ahead of 22-year-old Chase El­liott, who won the pole in 2016 and 2017.

“It just shows how well ev­ery­one is work­ing to­gether,” Bow­man said. The next step, though, is to win. Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports is com­ing off a sea­son to for­get.

El­liott’s three wins dur­ing the fi­nal 15 races were the team’s only vic­to­ries. The 43-year-old John­son, a two-time win­ner of the Day­tona 500, failed to cap­ture a Cup win for the first time in a ca­reer dat­ing to 2002.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, By­ron now works with John­son’s long­time crew chief Chad Knaus.

John­son and Knaus split af­ter last sea­son, hav­ing won a record­ty­ing seven Cup series ti­tles to­gether.

Knaus, 47, said work­ing with By­ron has re­ju­ve­nated him.

“Noth­ing against where I was, you need to un­der­stand that; it’s just a new thing, and it’s great, man, it’s a lot of fun,” Knaus said. “I think he’s got a lot of po­ten­tial.”

By­ron en­ters his sec­ond sea­son in the Cup series still seek­ing his first win.

To do it from the pole po­si­tion at the Day­tona 500 would be quite a feat. It hap­pens less than one would think.

Just seven pole-sit­ters have won the Day­tona 500 since the

race be­gan in 1959. The last was Dale Jar­rett in 2000.

The last four driv­ers to hold the pole po­si­tion for Hen­drick did not even crack the top 10.

Bow­man fin­ished 17th last year from the No. 1 spot. El­liott fin­ished 14th in 2017 and 37th in 2016. In 2015, Gor­don fin­ished 33rd as the race pole-sit­ter.

By­ron hopes to end the trend but now is left to wait for the big­gest chance of his young ca­reer. It will not be easy. By­ron is re­quired to race dur­ing Thurs­day’s Du­els. Rather than win­ning, he will be look­ing to keep his car in one piece.

“I’d put it in the garage if I could. Just be­ing frank,” Knaus said. “It’s just not worth it, man. We’ve got a great race car.”

By­ron’s day also con­tin­ued the suc­cess for Chevro­let dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing at the Day­tona 500. This is now the sev­enth straight pole for the man­u­fac­turer, dat­ing to Dan­ica Pa­trick’s his­toric qual­i­fy­ing run in 2013.

“You work all these years com­ing down here and you want all the cars to run well,” Hen­drick said. “This is a trib­ute to our or­ga­ni­za­tion, the en­gine shop, the chas­sis, body shop, and the teams to come here and run with four cars run­ning that good. I can’t be­lieve it.”

JOHN RAOUX/AP

Wil­liam By­ron won the pole po­si­tion Sun­day for the Day­tona 500. By­ron beat team­mate Alex Bow­man by fewer than two-tenths of a sec­ond.

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