Even with a new driver behind the wheel, the No. 88 Chevrolet still seems to have that Earnhardt magic when it comes to Daytona International Speedway.
Stepping into the car vacated by now retired two time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Alex Bowman drove to the pole for next weekend’s 60th annual running of the Great American Race to kick off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Bowman knocked 2016 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin out of the top spot with the final run in Sunday’s qualifying session, turning a lap at 195.644 around the 2.5 mile superspeedway.
“We knew we were going for the pole, that’s what we were here to do,” Bowman said. “I thought we were at a little disadvantage letting the car cool down as long as we did since we went pretty early in that first round. I was a little nervous for that second round. Took off well off pit road, and did everything I could do.”
Bowman’s path to the pole was a straight one, as he also paced the first round of qualifying.
It marks a strong start for the Tucson, Arizona native, as he moves full time to the NASCAR Cup Series as the new driver of one of the sport’s most recognizable cars.
“I think it’s still a little surreal,” Bowman said. “It’s a dream come true to get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Never would have thought it would happen 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 race car my job, and now to get to drive what I think is the best race car in the business, it’s a dream come true.”
Hamlin will start alongside Bowman in next Sunday’s Daytona 500. While the Virginia veteran is a former winner of the event, his qualifying effort on Sunday gave him his first front row starting spot for the 500.
“It was so out of the blue because honestly I thought that today was going to be a tough day qualifying because we focused so much on the race trim yesterday,” Hamlin said. “We stuck in a pack, we did one real mock run, which wasn’t even really a mock run, and we were so far off that we just switched and made sure our car was going to handle really good on Thursday and obviously 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.”
Bowman and Hamlin are the only two drivers locked into next weekend’s Daytona 500, as the rest of the field will be set by a pair of qualifying races set for Thursday night.
However, with only 40 cars entered in this year’s race, everyone will make the starting field for Sunday’s race.
Two time Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson was third fast in the final round, with Kyle Busch fourth and rookie William Byron fifth.
Eric Jones, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Paul Menard rounded out the top 12.
Other notables in qualifying that didn’t make the final round included defending Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, who timed in 17th quick, defending MENCS champion Martin Truex, Jr. was 26th fast, and former Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick was 28th quick as she readies for her final NASCAR start next Sunday.
WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of next Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 1:30 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona 500 – February 11, 2018
Sunday’s Qualifying Results
1. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 195.644 mph.
2. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 195.092 mph.
3. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 194.734 mph.
4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 194.704 mph.
5. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 194.548 mph.
6. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 194.473 mph.
7. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 194.468 mph.
8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 194.464 mph.
9. (17) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 194.045 mph.
10. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 193.911 mph.
11. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 193.811 mph.
12. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 193.199 mph.
13. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 193.386 mph.
14. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 193.357 mph.
15. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 193.228 mph.
16. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 192.893 mph.
17. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 192.810 mph.
18. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 192.744 mph.
19. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 192.728 mph.
20. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 192.386 mph.
21. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 192.242 mph.
22. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 192.238 mph.
23. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 192.160 mph.
24. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 191.902 mph.
25. (43) Darrell Wallace, Jr. #, Chevrolet, 191.742 mph.
26. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 191.481 mph.
27. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 191.188 mph.
28. (7) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 191.160 mph.
29. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 191.103 mph.
30. (47) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 190.904 mph.
31. (62) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 189.881 mph.
32. (51) Justin Marks(i), Chevrolet, 189.617 mph.
33. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 188.778 mph.
34. (96) D.J. Kennington, Toyota, 188.096 mph.
35. (00) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 188.025 mph.
36. (92) David Gilliland(i), Ford, 187.954 mph.
37. (66) Mark Thompson, Ford, 186.463 mph.
38. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 186.058 mph.
39. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
40. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 0.000 mph.