Daytona 500’s front row youngest in race history
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.