Chase Elliott took the Daytona 500 pole with a time of 45.845 seconds at 196.314 mph on Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. It was the first pole award for Elliott and first in the Great American Race as a rookie for Hendrick Motorsports.
It’s the second straight season the No. 24 car will be on the pole for the Daytona 500 after Jeff Gordon took the top spot in his final year. Ironically enough, Gordon took it in his last while Elliott claimed the spot in his first ever attempt. The last rookie to do so was Austin Dillon in the No. 3 machine in 2014.
“This is very special and a great way to start the season,” Elliott said on the Fox broadcast. “I’m very fortunate to have the group we do. … I think from here I just have to understand the draft a little more. The Duels will be an eye opener for me.
“I’m just so thankful for this opportunity. … This is very, very special.”
— NAPA Racing (@NAPARacing) February 14, 2016
— Daytona IntlSpeedway (@DISupdates) February 14, 2016
Just behind Elliott was Matt Kenseth, who finished with a time of 196.036 seconds and 45.910 mph. As a result, Elliott and Kenseth will start on the front row next Sunday regardless of their finishing positions in the CanAm Duels on Thursday night.
Along with the two drivers on the front row, two non-charter drivers were also locked in thanks to qualifying time. Those Open drivers — as NASCAR calls them — were Matt DiBenedetto of BK Racing and Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing.
— BK Racing (@BKRacing_2383) February 14, 2016
After NASCAR’s announcement that the charter system will be utilized starting in the Daytona 500, Wood Brothers Racing was left out of the mix. With Blaney qualifying on time, he has a chance to improve upon his 39th-place finish last season. The No. 21 machine finished fourth at Talladega in 2015, so Blaney has a shot for a strong result.
While President Eddie Wood was disappointed he didn’t receive a charter, he couldn’t overemphasize how important the Daytona 500 is for his team.
“I wouldn’t turn around and switch it for that win with Trevor here if you gave me two Charters,” he said. “That is how much winning (the Daytona 500) means. It is this race. Not just a race, (it’s) the race. This race is above all others. I don’t care if it is Indy, Le Mans, this race is above all others.”
Sealing the front row for Elliott and Kenseth was clearly the highlight of the afternoon, but simply making the field was equally as important for Blaney and DiBenedetto. Next Sunday when the green flag waves, look for all four to make an impact with fast cars ready to compete in the Daytona 500.