Alex Bowman switched car numbers for the 2021 season – from 88 to 48 – but he has certainly retained his Daytona magic and earned pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (14:30 ET; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), giving Hendrick Motorsports- leads a record fourth in a row in the front start of the NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
Bowman, 27, went out late in the qualifying order (38th place out of 44 drivers) on Wednesday night – the first night bar qualifying session in race history – but his Chevrolet easily set the pace with a shot of 191,261 mph (47,056 seconds) top of Hendrick Motorsport’s teammate William Byron by more than a quarter of a second.
“It was fast,” Byron said, smiling at Bowman’s pole vaulting lap.
The Hendrick teammates also started side by side in 2019 when Byron edged Bowman to pole position. Bowman got his first Daytona 500 rod in 2018 and started as second last year. Hendrick Motorsports now has 14 Daytona 500 pole positions.
“It doesn’t really have much to do with me, does it?” Bowman said on pit road after qualifying. “It’s a testament to these guys and everyone back in the shop at Hendrick Motorsports. They work so hard on these superspeedway cars. They’s beautiful when it comes to the racetrack. Our ally Camaro has been really fast since we read, and they focused a lot on trying to get the rod for the Daytona 500.
“It means a lot to us, and we were able to achieve that.”
And, he added, “It’s more about the people who make it happen. I floored it, but I’m pretty sure everyone else did too. I’m just grateful that my race car is fast. “
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola was third largest in Ford’s No. 10, followed by speed card by Bubba Wallace, who received rave reviews in his debut driving number 23 23XI Racing Toyota, which is co-owned by three-time and defends Daytona 500 winning driver Denny Hamlin and Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. Wallace’s lap was good enough to get into the top spot, only to be taken by Byron three cars later.
Wallace was fastest in an hour of practice on Wednesday afternoon – his first official deal with the new organization – and he clearly felt optimistic about the week. He finished second in his very first Daytona 500 in 2018.
“Everything is going to be a good ending for us, we just have to get through it,” Wallace said. “It’s the same feeling I had in 2018, my first 500. The speed was there, we qualified decently and had a really good duel and finished second in the 500.
“I think how things are going, we just have to keep going, keep the positive momentum going. Everything is going well in the car. I’m sure. Things are still getting better, but all in all it comes quite naturally when you have a good team behind you. ”
Wallace said he received a “very positive” text from Jordan after qualifying, saying the basketball superstar arrives in Daytona on Thursday in time for the Bluegreen Vacation Duels (19:00 ET; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), which ultimately will set the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Hamlin was 12th fastest in qualifying. The two joked that Wallace was faster.
“I’m mindful,” Hamlin said with a smile, adding, “It’s actually a pretty solid qualifying effort, determined for our FedEx team, just barely out of the top 10 there, so it’s a good starting spot for us, and we is excited about it.
“It was obviously a good run from the 23-man team. They barely missed it there by a tenth or so to get the locked place (in the front row). But now they have to go out there and run and get the experience they need. to get a good finish on Sunday. ”
Last year’s pole sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. appeared quickly again – fifth fastest in JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford), Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Ryan Preece (No. 37 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet), Daytona 500 winner 2018 Austin Dillon (No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ) and Daniel Suarez (No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet) rounded out the top 10.
Preece and 13th place qualifier David Ragan was fastest among open car teams that needed to qualify based on time. The rest of the open car team drivers – Austin Cindric, Kaz Grala, Timmy Hill, Noah Gragson, Ty Dillon and Garrett Smithley – will have to fight it in the duels with the highest finisher among them in each duel that earns a place in the Daytona 500.
Holly Cain writes for NASCAR Wire Service.
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