Hendrick drivers take both spots on the front row for the Daytona 500.
daytona beach, fla. — William Byron put Hendrick Motorsports in a familiar position: on the pole for the Daytona 500.
The 21-year-old Byron and 25year-old teammate Alex Bowman locked in the front row for “The Great American Race” during qualifying laps Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. They constitute the youngest front row in Daytona 500 history.
The coveted starting spot hasn’t meant much for NASCAR’s season opener over the past two decades, though. The last Daytona 500 pole-sitter to win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
The past four — Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliott (twice) and Bowman — have failed to notch a top-10 finish.
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.
Byron reached a top speed of 194.304 mph, nearly two-tenths of a second faster than Bowman.
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.
Casey Mears and Tyler Reddick secured two of the remaining spots in the Daytona 500. They posted the top speeds of the six drivers vying for four open spots in NASCAR’s season opener.
Joey Gase, Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman and Brandan Gaughan probably will have to race their way into the 500 during the qualifying races. Two of them will make it, and the other two won’t. . . .
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 at Daytona.
The seven-time Cup Series champion used a dose of aggression to put him back in victory lane. Paul Menard led 51 laps and controlled a 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.
The rain that ended the race hit not long after the decisive move.