DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon secured the starting spots on the coveted front row for “The Great American Race” Sunday afternoon during Daytona 500 Qualifying Presented by Kroger.
Earnhardt wheeled his No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet around the 2.5-mile tri-oval for a fast lap of 186.089 mph to capture his first pole at the “World Center of Racing” in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
This marks the second year in a row that Hendrick Motorsports teammates have topped the speed charts for the prestigious season opener. Last year saw Earnhardt, the 2004 Daytona 500 champion, take the outside pole alongside teammate and pole winner Mark Martin.
“(Winning the pole) takes a lot of pressure off of me for the (Gatorade Duel),” said Earnhardt Jr., who will be making his 400th Sprint Cup Series start next Sunday in the 53rd annual Daytona 500. “We can just go out, try to have fun, win that thing and bring all the hardware home this week.”
Three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon (185.966) was thrilled to begin the new racing season with an outside pole in the Daytona 500.
“It’s always a great feeling to lock yourself in,” Gordon said. “This is the biggest race that we have. It’s more of a sign of the effort that was put out by the team. I had the pleasure of driving that car today and being on the front row. We had a shot at the pole, but it’s great to get Hendrick Motorsports a 1-2 (start). I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way this week has gone so far.”
Of the 50 cars that attempted to qualify on Sunday, 14 of them will have to qualify on time or through the Gatorade Duel. Of those 14, four of them are guaranteed a starting position in the Daytona 500 – Bill Elliott (184.532), Travis Kvapil (184.271), Joe Nemechek (184.222) and former series champion Terry Labonte (champion’s provisional).
Today’s qualifying effort only set the front row of the historic race. The rest of the field will be determined by the outcomes of Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona.
The high-speed qualifying session on Sunday capped off a successful weekend on the new racing surface. Kurt Busch made his first trip to Gatorade Victory Lane in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout, which was highlighted by a record 28 lead changes.
“The stage is set for what will be one of the most memorable Daytona 500’s in NASCAR history,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said. “Last night’s Budweiser Shootout provided a small glimpse of what’s to come with a record number of lead changes and some high-speed drama the likes of which haven’t been seen in Daytona for a long time. With Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon secured in the top row, the action in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel will be intense as teams vie for a chance to battle for the ultimate prize in motorsports.”
Tickets for all of 2011 Speedweeks events, including the 53rd annual Daytona 500, are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.