NASCAR’s biggest event of the season is scheduled to take place this Sunday and the starting lineup has now fully been set. The 59th annual Daytona 500 will get underway with two of the sport’s biggest stars lined up on the front row – Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Elliott captured the pole for the 500 earlier in the week on Sunday. The Dawsonville, GA native wheeled his No.24 NAPA Chevrolet to the top of the charts in qualifying, marking his second consecutive 500 pole and third in a row for the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports team.
“Oh, I think the biggest thing is, as everybody knows, it’s not so much about where you start and more about where you finish,” said Elliott post-qualifying. “Daytona 500 pole day, as it should be, is more about the teams and what they bring over the off-season from the chassis shop to the 24 shop in particular, the body shop, our Hendrick department, Chevrolet. I think that’s what Daytona 500 qualifying has always been about. I think that’s where the attention should be, where it should be centered.”
His teammate, Dale Jr. got knocked off the top of the charts by Elliott, but in his first race back after missing a majority of the events last season due to a concussion – he couldn’t be more excited to have a front row view for the sport’s biggest race.
“I didn’t know where we stood against the competition yesterday in practice,” said Dale Jr. after qualifying on Sunday. “It’s real hard to figure out what guys are doing, how they’re trimming their cars out, and whether to trust the speed you’re seeing from people. Alan I don’t think had a ton of confidence in what they had yesterday, but when it came time, both of us were able to show up, and it’s good to be on the front row. I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole, but my boss man is happy. I just talked to him on the phone, and he’s got to be thrilled with having his cars up front.”
Per the format for Daytona 500 qualifying, only the front row was locked in after Sunday’s qualifying session. The rest of the field would be lined up based on how they finished in Thursday night’s qualifying races. Half the field ran in the first race, the other half competed in the second.
The first Can-Am Duel race featured racing that you would normally see towards the end of the main race. Two and three-wide pack racing kept fans on the edge of their seats for a majority of the 60 lap event. When it was all said and done, the pole-sitter Elliott wound up also taking the checkered flag in the qualifying race – a feat that hadn’t been accomplished in 21 years.
“Man, we had such a fast NAPA Chevy tonight,” said Elliott after the race. “I don’t know, I didn’t think anyone was going to help us there the first part of the race. I had a good couple pushes to get us out front and Eddie (spotter) did a great job up on top of the roof making sure he was calling the lanes correctly, we were able to get back to the front.”
The second Can-Am Duel picked up right where the first one left off – with fun action-filled racing. Dale Jr. led for a majority of the race, until Denny Hamlin got a run on him heading down the backstretch with one and a half laps to go. Hamlin was able to get to the outside of Jr. and held onto the lead all the way back to the checkered flag.
“This is a great sign of a great year hopefully to come,” said Hamlin after capturing his third-career Duel victory.
With qualifying all wrapped up, here’s the full-field lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500:
Row 1: Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Row 2: Jamie McMurray and Denny Hamlin
Row 3: Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer
Row 4: Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch
Row 5: Matt Kenseth and AJ Allmendinger
Row 6: Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon
Row 7: Martin Truex Jr. and Danica Patrick
Row 8: Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman
Row 9: Joey Logano and Kyle Larson
Row 10: Cole Whitt and Ty Dillon
Row 11: Daniel Suarez and David Ragan
Row 12: Kyle Busch and Michael McDowell
Row 13: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson
Row 14: Matt DiBenedetto and Kasey Kahne
Row 15: Landon Cassill and D.J. Kennington
Row 16: Chris Buescher and Michael Waltrip
Row 17: Joey Gase and Jeffery Earnhardt
Row 18: Corey LaJoie and Erik Jones
Row 19: Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney
Row 20: Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler