Hendrick teammates race through mist to secure their positions in the front row
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.”
Three crew chiefs disqualified
NASCAR has ejected the car chiefs for Elliott, Ty Dillon and Austin Dillon for repeated inspection failures leading up to Sunday’s qualifying rounds.
Josh Kirk for Elliott, Greg Ebert for Austin Dillon and Billy Plourde for Ty Dillon cannot return until the next race, Feb. 24 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR has cracked down this season on inspection failures and even will disqualify winning cars that are caught breaking rules.
William won the pole position Sunday for the Daytona 500. Byron beat teammate Alex Bowman by fewer than two-tenths of a second.