DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., (February 10, 2008) – Jimmie Johnson, 2006 Daytona 500 winner and two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, captured the pole for the 50th running of the Daytona 500 during Daytona 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger.
Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, earned his second career Daytona 500 pole with a speed of 187.075 mph. Johnson’s first career Daytona 500 pole came as a rookie in 2002.
Johnson’s Daytona 500 pole continues a successful weekend at DIS for Hendrick Motorsports.
Before taking the pole for “The Great American Race,” all four Hendrick drivers competed in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and finished in the top-six with third-place finisher Johnson pushing new teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the win.
“Last night we had a great race (with the Budweiser Shootout),” Johnson said. “But I’m looking forward to what this car can do in the 500. (The team has) been very committed and working hard. From the Shootout to today’s qualifying effort, we’ve been where we need to be.”
“It’s always neat to get down here and get a win,” car-owner Rick Hendrick said. “But the pole is something the guys work for all winter long. It’s just a good place to be.”
Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip will roll his No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 from the outside pole. Waltrip turned a lap of 186.734 mph.
“It’s certainly something we’re very proud of,” Waltrip said. “We’ve worked very hard over the last three or four months. This is the best place ever in the whole world to qualify second, because hopefully when they show the pole-sitter, they show the front row and there will be a lot of pictures in newspapers across the country with the NAPA Toyota in them. I’m so deeply thankful that we were able to have a good day.”
For much of the day it looked as though “Front Row Joe” Nemechek, who is running a Hendrick engine, would start on the front row at Daytona.
But as qualifying wound down, Waltrip bumped the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet to third. Both Nemechek and Waltrip had to earn a starting spot in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 and are now guaranteed a spot due to their qualifying times.
"Awesome day,” Nemechek said. “Anybody not locked in the top 35, this is an awesome day. To end up third, that is what we are sitting around here talking about, man, what could we have done differently to go just a little bit faster.”
Johnson and Waltrip not only have front row starting spots for the Daytona 500, but also the pole positions for this Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona. Those 150-mile qualifying races will help finalize the rest of the 43-car field for the Daytona 500.
Tickets for DIRECTV Speedweeks 2008 events are available online at www.racetickets.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.