Byron wins Daytona 500 pole, Bowman in second
Hendrick has the top starting spot for fifth consecutive year
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-year-old 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.
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 NASCAR Daytona 500
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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.
Denny Hamlin (11), Kevin Harvick (4), Austin Dillon (3), Clint Bowyer (14), Erik Jones (20), Chase Elliott (9) and Daniel Suarez (41) are among the cars involved in Sunday's wreck at Daytona.