Alex Bowman has won the pole for next week’s Daytona 500 with a lap at 195.644mph (46.002s), beating out 2016 race winner Denny Hamlin by 0.130s.
The No.88 has started on the front row for the past five restrictor-place races – and has won the last three. This time, it has a new full-time driver in a new Camaro ZL1.
“Hell yeah,” Bowman said over the radio when he heard the news. The 24-year-old admitted his nerves when he got out of the car.
“Just a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “We knew we were going for the pole, that’s what we’re here to do, and thought we were at a little disadvantage letting the car cool down as long as we did since we went pretty early in the first round, was a little nervous for that second round.
“HELL YEAH!” The Showman gets it done.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 11, 2018
“But glad it took off well off pit road, did everything I could do. But this really comes down to the crew, all the guys back at the shop, whether it’s the aero group, engine shop, chassis shop … it just means the world to have Nationwide’s support and be able to put it on the pole.”
“I think it’s still a little surreal. It’s a dream come true to get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Never would have thought it would have happened after the path my career took. Just so thankful to be able to do this, I’m very blessed to be able to call driving a racecar my job and now I get to drive what I think is the best racecar in the business, it’s a dream come true.”
— Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 11, 2018
This marks the seventh Daytona 500 pole in the last 11 years and fourth straight for Team Hendrick – Jeff Gordon took the No.24 Chevy to the pole in 2015 before Chase Elliott earned two more in the seat. Having won the pole in his first Daytona 500 tries in 2016 and 2017, Elliott advanced to the Round of 12 but wound up 10th.
Hamlin, who has never won a pole on a restrictor-plate track, will start second.
“I am so ecstatic,” Hamlin said with a smile. “It was so out of the blue because honestly I thought that today was gonna be a tough day qualifying because we focused so much on race trim yesterday, we stuck in a pack, I think we did one real mock run which wasn’t really even a mock run and we were so far off that we just switched and made sure our car was gonna handle really good on Thursday and next Sunday.
“This car is ready to race, it’s handling well, we’re looking forward to Thursday and now obviously the 500 being on the front row.”
Two-time Daytona 500 pole-sitter and two-time race winner Jimmie Johnson – the only multi-time winner in the field – was third fastest at 194.734mph.
With Bowman and Hamlin the only two drivers to locked in their starting positions, the rest of the 40-car field will be determined by the two Can-Am Duel races Thursday night.
Other notable times: In his Team Penske debut Ryan Blaney was 15th quickest (193.228mph); 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch was 17th quickest (192.810mph), rookie Bubba Wallace was 25th (191.742mph); defending series champion Martin Truex was 26th fastest (191.481mph); and Danica Patrick was 28th (191.160mph).