By­ron claims pole

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports dom­i­nates qual­i­fy­ing for Day­tona 500

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - SPORTS - By MARK LONG

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — 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.

The 21-year-old By­ron and 25-yearold team­mate Alex Bow­man locked in the front row for “The Great Amer­i­can Race” dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing laps Sun­day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way. They com­prise the youngest front row in Day­tona 500 his­tory.

The cov­eted start­ing spot hasn’t meant much for NASCAR’s sea­son opener over the last two decades, though. The last Day­tona 500 pole-sit­ter to win the race was Dale Jar­rett in 2000.

The last four — Hen­drick’s Jeff Gor­don, Chase El­liott (twice) and Bow­man — have failed to notch a top-10 fin­ish.

“To have them on top of each other means the or­ga­ni­za­tion did a heck of a job,” Hen­drick said. “This is the deal to sit on the pole at Day­tona.”

By­ron and Bow­man edged the other two Hen­drick driv­ers: seven-time Cup Series cham­pion Jim­mie John­son and fan fa­vorite Chase El­liott.

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

Knaus and John­son landed the Day­tona 500 pole in their first race to­gether in 2002. Af­ter split­ting with John­son at the end of last sea­son, Knaus es­sen­tially re­peated the feat with By­ron.

“I think it’s huge,” Knaus said. “We’ve had a lot of late nights, a lot of long hours. The last time I came here with a new driver, we sat on the pole. This is re­ally spe­cial for me.”

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).

The rest of the 40-car lineup will be set by two qual­i­fy­ing races Thurs­day. Thir­tysix of those spots are al­ready filled be­cause of NASCAR’s char­ter sys­tem.

NASCAR ejected the car chiefs for Chase El­liott, Ty Dil­lon and Austin Dil­lon through the Day­tona 500 for re­peated in­spec­tion fail­ures be­fore qual­i­fy­ing for the race.

The driv­ers also were docked 15 min­utes from the fi­nal Cup prac­tice be­fore next Sun­day’s race. NASCAR has cracked down this sea­son on in­spec­tion fail­ures.

John­son trig­gers wreck, then wins Clash

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Jim­mie John­son trig­gered a wreck that wiped out nearly the en­tire field at Day­tona and zipped to the lead to win the rain-short­ened ex­hi­bi­tion Clash.

The seven-time Cup Series cham­pion failed to win a race last sea­son for the first time in his ca­reer but a dose of ag­gres­sion put him back in vic­tory lane in the first week­end of Speed­weeks.

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 chain-re­ac­tion ac­ci­dent that left cars side­ways and smok­ing be­hind the No. 48 Chevro­let.


Car owner Rick Hen­drick, left, talks with Wil­liam By­ron on pit road dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing Sun­day for the Day­tona 500 at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in Day­tona Beach, Fla. By­ron won the pole as Hen­drick’s four en­trants took the top four po­si­tions in time tri­als.

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