Day­tona 500’s front row youngest in race his­tory

Tampa Bay Times - - Morning Briefing -

Wil­liam By­ron put Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports in a fa­mil­iar po­si­tion: on the pole for the Day­tona 500. His big­ger goal is to make the start­ing spot pay div­i­dends for the NASCAR pow­er­house.

By­ron, 21, and team­mate Alex Bow­man, 25, locked in the front row for next Sun­day’s race in qual­i­fy­ing laps at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in Day­tona Beach. They com­prise the youngest front row in Day­tona 500 his­tory.

“To have them on top of each other means the or­ga­ni­za­tion did a heck of a job,” Hen­drick said.

The cov­eted start­ing spot hasn’t meant much for NASCAR’s sea­son opener over the past two decades, though. The last pole-sit­ter to win the race was Dale Jar­rett in 2000.

By­ron and Bow­man edged the other two Hen­drick driv­ers: sev­en­time Cup series cham­pion Jim­mie John­son and Chase El­liott.

“That’s a pretty amaz­ing feat, I feel,” said long­time Hen­drick crew chief Chad Knaus, in his first sea­son with By­ron af­ter 18 years with John­son.

By­ron reached a top speed of 194.304 mph in the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing, nearly two-tenths of a sec­ond faster than Bow­man (194.153).

“I thought we were go­ing to be some­where in the hunt,” By­ron said. “I was ex­cited to get down here and see what we had. It’s re­ally cool.”

The rest of the 40-car lineup will be set by two qual­i­fy­ing races Thurs­day. Thirty-six of those spots are al­ready filled be­cause of NASCAR’s char­ter sys­tem. For­mer Hen­drick driver Casey Mears and Tyler Red­dick se­cured two of the re­main­ing spots in the 500. They posted the top speeds of the six driv­ers vy­ing for four open spots.

CREW CHIEFS BANNED:

NASCAR ejected the car chiefs for Chase El­liott, Ty Dil­lon and de­fend­ing Day­tona 500 win­ner Austin Dil­lon through the race for re­peated in­spec­tion fail­ures be­fore qual­i­fy­ing. The driv­ers also were docked 15 min­utes from the fi­nal Cup prac­tice be­fore the race. Greg Ebert for Austin Dil­lon, Billy Plourde for Ty Dil­lon and Josh Kirk for El­liott will not be al­lowed to re­turn to the garage un­til the next race, the QuikTrip 500 on Feb. 24 at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way.

JOHN­SON WINS CLASH:

Jim­mie John­son trig­gered a wreck that wiped out nearly the en­tire field and zipped to the lead to win the rain­short­ened ex­hi­bi­tion Clash at Day­tona. Paul Me­nard led 51 laps and con­trolled the race in­ter­rupted mul­ti­ple times for rain. With more rain loom­ing, John­son dipped low and tried to side-draft Me­nard as they bat­tled for the lead. But John­son turned Me­nard and started a chain­re­ac­tion ac­ci­dent that left cars side­ways and smok­ing be­hind the No. 48 Chevro­let. The rain ended the race not long af­ter that. John­son won for the first time with new crew chief Kevin Meen­der­ing.

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