Byron earns Daytona pole as Hendrick drivers sizzle
William Byron captured the pole position Sunday in qualifying for the seasonopening Daytona 500.
Joining him in the front row at next Sunday’s race will be Alex Bowman, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Hendrick drivers have won the pole the past five Daytona 500s.
Byron’s final-round lap of 194.304 mph edged Bowman’s 194.153 mph.
Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott were third and fourth in qualifying, but only the top two drivers cemented their starting spots for the 500.
The cars that will start in spots three through 40 will be decided Thursday night in two qualifying races, with 42 drivers in the mix. Already, 36 cars have qualified for the Daytona 500, so that leaves six cars contending for four positions.
Byron, 21, is in his second NASCAR season. He earned Rookie of the Year honors last year with four finishes in the top 10. He ranked 23rd in the standings.
In a Twitter post after the qualifying race, Byron celebrated an uplifting start to the season: “First career NASCAR Cup Series pole and a @TeamHendrick front row for the #DAYTONA500. Not a bad start to 2019!” JOHNSON BACK IN VICTORY LANE >> Coming off a 2018 season which saw him go winless for the first time in his 18 years as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup series, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was thrilled to accept the victory in Sunday’s exhibition Clash at DIS.
No matter that the race ended with a big wreck -- in which he played a starring role — or that heavy rain during the ensuing cleanup shortened the scheduled 75lap event to 59 laps.
“Feels good” to be back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2017, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “Extremely excited to win. It’s not a points race but it’s a good start.”
Kurt Busch, driving his first race for Chip Ganassi Racing, finished second while defending series champion Joey Logano of Team Penske was third.
Paul Menard started the race from the pole in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford and led 51 of the first 55 laps. His Sunday drive was ruined when the big wreck occurred with 20 laps to go.
The wreck occurred when Menard, leading the race in the outside line, inched down the track in an attempt to keep Johnson from passing for the lead. The two cars touched doors and Menard, who was looking for his first Cup victory since he won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011, spun up into the wall.
All but three of the 20 cars on the track at the time of the wreck suffered damage.
The 20-car field was comprised of drivers who won a Cup pole in 2018, former Clash winners who competed full-time in 2018, former Daytona 500 winners who competed full-time in 2018, former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in 2018, and drivers who qualified for last year’s Cup playoffs
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, right, claimed the pole for the Daytona 500.