DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He’s going out with a bang. NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will retire from fulltime cup racing at the end of the season, will start from the pole as he leads the field to the green for his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night.
The pole for Earnhardt is only his second at Daytona where he has amassed 17 wins total, and the 14th of his career. It’s also his first pole in four years, his last coming in 2013 at Dover International Speedway.
Earnhardt was fastest in the first of two rounds of qualifying Friday giving him the final run of the day. He used that final lap to put down the fastest of the day 190.973 miles per hour.
Chase Elliott will start from the front after grabbing the second spot. Elliott was the next to last out and held the provisional pole until Earnhardt’s run moments later.
“I have to give Hendrick Motorsports a lot of credit, particularly for me personally it has been the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) bunch,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been kind of pushing each other over the last several years in qualifying at Talladega and Daytona. It’s been a healthy competition. That’s why we win poles and qualify so well at some of these race tracks is a healthy competition within the company.”
Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick round out the top five starters.
Earnhardt, who has 17 wins total at Daytona has gone on record as saying he might be open to racing at Daytona again in the future. But Friday his only thoughts were on his final race as a full time Cup competitor and his confidence in starting from the front.
“I’ll be honest with you, this track is a little slick and starting to age.” Earnhardt said. “I think that all of the competitors and crew chiefs need to probably consider spending a little more time drafting and put a few more laps on the cars. I sure would have liked to have that opportunity to get in a little larger pack yesterday. I saw some things from my car that are concerning as far as the balance and I don’t know if a lot of guys got themselves in that situation. We used to practice and run a lot of laps. But these days with the repave we have kind of calmed down on practice. Nobody really practices that much. The track is getting slick again. I think guys just need to practice more.”
Noteworthy was the fact for the first time this season all four Hendrick cars start in the top 12, three in the top four, while no Toyota’s advanced to the final round.
“It’s such a long race,” Elliott said. “I think if we can all be in those positions later in the race and as the race continues to unwind, if we can all show strength, there is certainly strength in numbers and if those numbers are on your side, that’s a good thing.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start sixth, Joey Logano seventh, Jamie McMurray eighth with Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 12.
With 40 entries, no one was sent home. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero 400 will get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday with live coverage on NBC.