DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dawsonville's Chase Elliott kept the No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the second straight Daytona 500, becoming the youngest driver to land the top spot in NASCAR’s biggest race.
Without showing the pressure on the track that comes with the ride, Elliott took the seat from retired four-time champion Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports and outran 43 others in front-row qualifying Sunday.
Gordon’s not the first great Elliott had to follow: The 20-year-old is the son of Hall of Fame driver and two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott. Bill hugged his son on pit road.
Gordon was in the broadcast booth at Daytona International Speedway, calling the shots as the No. 24 went around the track without him for the first time since 1992. Elliott’s top speed was 196.314 mph.
“I don’t know if this opportunity has sunk in yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500,” Elliott said.
Joe Gibbs Racing continued its strong opening to Speedweeks by putting Matt Kenseth on the front row for the Daytona 500. It came on the heels of Denny Hamlin’s victory in Saturday night’s exhibition race and showed that the team hasn’t lost a step in its game since Kyle Busch claimed the Sprint Cup title in November.
Busch was fourth fastest in Sunday’s time trials, while Carl Edwards was ninth and Hamlin 10th. JGR was the only multicar team to put all of its cars in the top 10.
But team owner Joe Gibbs cares little about the buildup to the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500. Year after year, his drivers prove to be the best of the bunch during Speedweeks but come up empty in the main event. He reminded Hamlin of that in victory lane Saturday night.
“I said, ‘Try and get us a 500, will you?’” Gibbs said. “It’s been 23 years since we were able to win one.”
JGR won its only Daytona 500 in 1993 with Dale Jarrett, and Gibbs doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind his current drivers of the drought.
“I’ve got to tell you, the 500 is just hard to win,” Gibbs said. “That’s where we come at it. So many things can happen. You can have really good cars, and we feel like we have had those, but it’s a tough race to win. I’d love to get another one.”
The rest of the Daytona 500 field will be set in Thursday’s two qualifying races.
Elliott won the pole at 20 years, 2 months and 17 days, besting 2014 pole-sitter Austin Dillon’s mark of 23 years, 9 months and 27 days.
Gordon already sounded like a seasoned pro in the Fox Sports broadcast booth, asking his replacement how he could keep his momentum headed into “The Great American Race.” Gordon was a three-time Daytona 500 winner and won a pair of poles in the 24. Elliott’s speed earned team owner Rick Hendrick his 10th overall pole in the Daytona 500.
NASCAR ditched its knockout group qualifying format for Daytona for single cars making one qualifying lap.
After 44 drivers had a scheduled turn, the 12 fastest advanced to the second round. The two fastest drivers in the second round set the front row.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano advanced.
Other things to know about qualifying:
WHO’S IN: Wood Brothers driver Ryan Blaney and BK Racing’s Matt Dibenedetto secured spots in the Daytona 500 as the two fastest open team drivers. NASCAR’s new charter system, which guarantees 36 cars a starting spot in each race, shut out the Wood Brothers because it had been 10 years since it ran a full season. Blaney ran 16 races for the Woods last year and failed to qualify for three others because rain washed out the session. He won’t have to worry about a spot next week.
WHO’S LEFT: With two spots remaining, Josh Wise, Michael McDowell, Reed Sorenson, Robert Richardson Jr., David Gilliland and Cole Whitt all have to race their way into the field. The top open finisher in each qualifying race will make the Daytona 500.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: The Elliotts became the fourth father-son combination to earn the Daytona 500 pole, joining Richard Petty (1966) and Kyle Petty (1993), Bobby Allison (1981) and Davey Allison (1991), and Dale Earnhardt (1996) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2011). Bill Elliott landed the pole in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 2001.
TRUEX TROUBLES: Martin Truex Jr., one of four drivers to race for the championship in last season’s finale, did not make a qualifying attempt because of an issue with a roof flap of his No. 78 Toyota. He will start one of the qualifying races from the rear of the field.