Qualifying for the DAYTONA 500 this year was for the first time a group effort, but it produced a singular result on Sunday that immediately found a special place in the event’s hallowed history.
When the DAYTONA 500 debut of NASCAR’s tournament-style “knockout” qualifying was complete, Jeff Gordon – starting his final fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and running his final DAYTONA 500 – emerged as the polesitter for next week’s (Sunday, Feb. 22) 57th running of the “Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon won the third and final round of qualifying with a fast lap of 201.293 mph. It’s the first 200-mph pole speed for the race since Bill Elliott rocketed to 210.364 in 1987.
Gordon, driving the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, assured himself a spot in the field as did the second-fastest (201.135) qualifier in the final round, two-time race champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
“This is definitely huge for many reasons,” Gordon said, starting with his team’s mastery of the knockout qualifying format that he called crazy, chaotic – and strategic. “And then you add in that it’s the DAYTONA 500 … the emotion of the announcement I made to start the season … this is my last DAYTONA 500. This is a very special day.”
This is arguably the most elite front row in race history. Gordon and Johnson have 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships between them (Gordon four, Johnson six) and five DAYTONA 500 championships (Gordon three, Johnson two).
The top two qualifiers are locked into the event and will start from the pole in the two 150-mile Budweiser Duel At Daytona races on Thursday night – Gordon in the first qualifying race, Johnson in the second. The Budweiser Duel races will establish positions 3-32 in the DAYTONA 500 starting grid. Positions 33-36 go to the four fastest drivers from qualifying who haven’t made the field via their Budweiser Duel efforts, which also secures Carl Edwards a starting spot. Since Edwards is making his debut with a new team at Joe Gibbs Racing, there are no 2014 car owner points to fall back on, the criteria to fill positions 37-42 for the DAYTONA 500. If Edwards hadn’t qualified well, he would’ve been forced to rely on his Budweiser Duel-race finish to make the field.
Tickets for the 57th annual DAYTONA 500 and all Budweiser Speedweeks 2015 events are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtag #DAYTONA500 and #SPEEDWEEKS. Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Fans can follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising on Twitter or visiting www.daytonarising.com.