Talk about a good first day on the job. In his first race as the official driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, Alex Bowman will start the 60th Daytona 500 from the pole next Sunday. Sunday, Bowman, who led both rounds, went out last and put down a lap of 195.644 to score his second career pole, his last coming at Phoenix while substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Bowman said. “Our Nationwide Camaro ZL1 has been great since we unloaded. All the guys back at the chassis shop, body shop, and the Hendrick engine shop have been top-notch. They’ve all worked so hard. And we knew we were going for the pole; that’s what we’re here to do. And I 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. I was a little nervous for that second round. But it took off well off pit road and I did everything I could do, but it really comes down to the crew and all the guys back at the shop, whether it’s the aero group, the engine shop, the chassis shop.”
The lap relegated Denny Hamlin to second, but still on the front row. Daytona qualifying only sets the front row; the rest of the field will be set after Thursday’s Duel Qualifying races. For Hamlin, who won the closest 500 in history two years ago, the front row starting spot for the Great American Race is his first.
“I literally am so ecstatic,” Hamlin said. “It’s just so out of the blue because obviously I thought that today was going to be a tough day qualifying. We focused so much on race trim yesterday. We stuck in a pack and 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 going to handle real good on Thursday and obviously next Sunday. This car is ready to race.”
Bowman was named to take over the Earnhardt car last season and starts 2018 as the second driver of the No. 88.
“It’s a dream come true to get to drive for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said. “I never thought it would have happened after the path my career took. I’m 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.”
Bowman and Hamlin were the only two cars to have speeds above 194. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and William Byron round out the top five starters; in all three Hendrick cars were in the top five.
This his second Daytona 500 start, his first came with BK Racing in 2014 when he started 29th and finished 23rd.
This marks the second straight Daytona pole for the 88 car; Earnhardt Jr. put the car on the pole for last July’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, his last race at the speedway.
Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Paul Menard rounded out the drivers who advanced to the final round in the top 12.
With 40 cars entered no team will be sent home. The Duel Qualifying races on Thursday will set the remainder of the starting lineup behind Bowman and Hamlin. The 2018 Daytona 500 will get the green flag next Sunday just after 2:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Fox.