DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Alex Bowman said during his media availability this past week that qualifying a NASCAR at the Daytona International Speedway is more about the hardwork from the team back at the shop in North Carolina rather than the driver. In fact, the only thing the driver can do is screw it up.
William Byron likened qualifying on the 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway to 90% car and 10% driver. Well, that duo earned a Hendrick Motorsports lockout of the front row for Sunday’s Great American Race.
Bowman, turned a speed of 191.261 mph in his No. 48 Chevrolet en route to his second career Daytona 500 pole.
“It doesn’t really have a lot to do with me; it’s a testament to these guys and everybody back at the shop at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Bowman after earning his third career Busch Pole Award. “They work so hard on these superspeedway cars. They’re beautiful when they get to the racetrack.
“Our Ally Camaro has been really fast since we unloaded, and they focused a lot on trying to get the pole for the Daytona 500. It means a lot to us, and we were able to achieve that.”
He’s actually never started off the front row for the annual season opener in four career tries with HMS.
Byron, qualified on the pole in 2019, was fourth last year and now second this time around. The North Carolina native turned in a lap of 190.219 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
The bowties have now won nine straight Daytona 500 poles and 14 of the last 16 years overall.
Hendrick Motorsports has taken six of the last seven poles. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with JTG Daugherty Racing won last year’s pole while Jeff Gordon started the streak in 2015. Chase Elliott won the pole in 2016 and again in 2017 followed by Bowman in 2018 and Byron in 2019.
The only two races since 2006 that a Chevy driver didn’t earn the Daytona 500 pole was in 2007 (David Gilliland) and 2012 (Carl Edwards).
Toyota, has never won a Daytona 500 pole but did appear close to a front row starting spot with Bubba Wallace. He was fourth fastest (189.577 mph) in his No. 23 Toyota. Christopher Bell (7th), Denny Hamlin (12th), Kyle Busch (16th) and Martin Truex Jr. (28th) rounded out the Toyota camp after they went 1-2-3-4-5 in practice earlier in the day. Those top speeds in Wednesday’s lone practice session were all in the draft though.
Aric Almirola (190.178 mph) was third fastest.
“Everything’s shaping up to be a great ending for us, we just have to get through it,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of the same feeling I had in 2018, my first 500. The speed was there, we qualified decent and had a really good Duel and finished second in the 500.
“I think the way things are going, we just have to keep it going, keep the positive momentum going. Everything’s kind of going well in the car. I’m confident. Still getting things worked out but all in all it comes pretty natural when you have a great team behind you.”
Wallace said he got a “very positive” text from Jordan after qualifying and said the basketball superstar arrives in Daytona on Thursday in time for the Bluegreen Vacation Duels (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) that will ultimately set the starting lineup for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.
Hamlin, the three-time defending DAYTONA 500 winner, who is also going for a record third consecutive triumph, was 12th fastest in qualifying. The two joked about Wallace being faster.
“I’m aware,” Hamlin said with a smile, adding, “It’s actually a pretty solid qualifying effort certainly for our FedEx team, just barely out of the top 10 there so that’s a good starting spot for us and we’re excited about it.
“Obviously that was a great run by the 23-team. They just barely missed it there by a tenth or so to get that locked in spot (on the front row). But now they get to go out there and race and get the experience they need to get a good finish on Sunday.”
Speed wise, last year’s polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. proved fast again – fifth quickest in the JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford), Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Ryan Preece (No. 37 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet), 2018 DAYTONA 500 winner Austin Dillon (No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) and Daniel Suarez (No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet) rounded out the top 10.
Ryan Preece and David Ragan each qualified their ways in among the open cars on Wednesday. For both, this was big.
Preece, was fastest among the eight open cars with a lap of 189.135 mph in his No. 37 Chevrolet. This was beneficial for them to make it in as their future is very much in doubt. JTG Daugherty Racing lost the charter for this ride and they also don’t have enough funding right now to run the full slate. Missing the Daytona 500 would have been costly for this ride to continue on for all 36 races.
But, Preece was confident heading into qualifying in saying that JTG was fast last year and he felt like they’d be fast again this time around.
“My entire racing career has pretty much been full of moments like this,” Preece said after qualifying. “This was like no other day to me.”
Preece, had to go back and change before qualifying because he had on the wrong drivers suit.
“That was the most stressful thing I had going,” Preece continued.
In the case of Ragan, he’s back again for a Daytona 500 one off and he went 13th (188.561 mph) overall which was good enough for P2 among open cars.
Austin Cindric was a favorite in a Penske ride to land in one of the two guaranteed open spots but he was only 19th quickest. He will have to race his way in on Thursday night. So will Kaz Grala, Ty Dillon, Timmy Hill, Chad Finchum and Noah Gragson.
Gragson’s No. 62 Chevrolet failed inspection three times and didn’t get a chance to complete a qualifying lap. He will start last in his Duel on Thursday.
Six drivers enter, just two can race their ways in.
Action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Daytona 500 Front Row Hasn’t Had Much Daytona 500 Race Success
Alex Bowman’s potential pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) does come with a caveat. The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was Dale Jarrett some 21 years ago in 2000. The last pole winner to even nab a top five finish was Bill Elliott back in 2002. The pole winner for the Daytona 500 has failed to score a top 10 finish in 16 of the last 19 years in fact. Their average finishing position?
Bowman, has never started off the front row in four Daytona 500 starts with Hendrick Motorsports. He just hasn’t turned them into results in the race.
Its not like the second starting spot is that much better. Their average finishing position in the big race? 16th too.
Just six times in the last 25 years has the second place starter came home with a top five finish in the Great American Race.
That’s not good news for William Byron either.
So, while the distinction of being a front row starter for the ‘500 is great an all, it hasn’t translated much into success a week later. Bowman and Byron hope to change that on Sunday.
They said with their recent experience of starting up front at Daytona, they’re going to spend a concentrated effort to make it work better this time around.
Despite all this qualifying success, HMS hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 2014. Byron, said there’s extra emphasis on changing that this weekend.
What Will The Speeds Look Like?
Due to changes to the car between last year and this one, there’s less horsepower. As a result, the pole speed is over 3 mph slower than last year’s set by Stenhouse (194.582 mph). That was the first with the tapered spacer. Byron went 194.305 mph in the final year of the restrictor plate in 2019. It’s been 194 mph or above in eight of the last nine years before these Speedweeks with the only exception being in 2017 when Elliott went 192.872 mph and now Bowman at 191.261 mph. It’s been in the 190’s or above in 10 straight years now though and 11 of the last 12 at that. Jeff Gordon went 201.293 mph in 2015 for the only time 1987 that the pole speed broke the 200 mph barrier.
Prior to 2010 though, the pole speeds didn’t get out of the 180’s for nine straight years.