Larson wins first Daytona 500 pole, teammate Bowman completes front row grid

Kyle Larson picked up right where he left off from the previous season and saved his best for last after the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California, claimed the pole position for the 64th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, February 16.

The qualifying format that determined the front row of this year’s Daytona 500 was based on two single-car qualifying sessions, each comprised of a single-lap qualifying session for each competitor, where the top-10 fastest qualifiers from a total of 42, transferred from the first to the second round and contended for the pole position.

Larson, who was the second-to-last competitor to roll his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the track to post a qualifying lap through the first and second sessions, secured the pole position with a pole-winning time at 49.680 seconds at 181.159 mph. With his accomplishment, Larson, who notched his 11th Cup Series career pole, became the 44th different competitor to win the pole for the Great American Race and the first pole winner in the new Next Gen stock cars as he seeks his first 500 victory this weekend. The 500 pole award also was the 15th for Hendrick Motorsports and the 31st overall, 10th in a row, for the Chevrolet nameplate.

“Yeah, it’s really neat,” Larson said on FS1. “You are really proud of your team to get a pole here because this is the littlest it has to do with us drivers; qualifying at superspeedways. Just a huge thank you to the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports. Everybody who’s had a part in touching these vehicles; whether it be on the computer, engineering, or just hands-on. It’s really neat. Just awesome the speed in our HendrickCars.com Chevy. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a really good weekend…I think it just be even more special if we could win the Duels tomorrow and go on Sunday and win the [Daytona] 500.”

Joining Larson on the front row will be teammate Alex Bowman, who made history by claiming his record-setting fifth consecutive front-row starting spot for the 500 as Hendrick Motorsports’ competitors swept the front row for the 500 for the seventh time in 13 seasons. Bowman, the reigning two-time Daytona 500 pole winner, posted the second-fastest qualifying time of 49.711 seconds at 181.046 mph in his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bowman said. “I’ve come down here not locked in, qualified poorly, had to race our way in. It just says so much about Hendrick Motorsports and all these guys. Congrats to [Larson] on getting the pole. It’s cool to be like to have the record, but I feel like [crew chief] Greg Ives and my race team should be the ones that should get the credit for that record because the driver doesn’t really have much to do with it, but glad I didn’t mess it up for them and really happy for Ally and Chevrolet. Cool to be a part of it. We’ve found out every way to lose a 500, so hopefully, we can figure out how to win in on Sunday.”

William Byron, the 2019 Daytona 500 pole winner, posted the third-fastest qualifying time of 49.711 seconds at 180.850 mph in his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 followed by Aric Almirola, the fastest non-HMS competitor who commenced his swan song season as a full-time NASCAR competitor by posting the fourth-fastest qualifying time of 49.854 seconds at 180.529 mph in his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang. Chase Elliott settled in fifth place with the fifth-fastest qualifying time of 49.913 seconds at 180.314 mph, thus placing all four Hendrick Motorsports competitors in the top five.

Rounding out the top 10 in qualifying time and speed were Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and rookie Harrison Burton.

Daniel Hemric, the reigning Xfinity Series champion who was the first competitor to roll off the grid and was one of 32 competitors that did not transfer to the second qualifying round, posted the 11th-fastest qualifying time of 50.160 seconds at 179.429 mph ahead of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon.

Meanwhile, Noah Gragson and Jacques Villeneuve were also left victorious after both raced their way into the Daytona 500 after emerging as the fastest two qualifiers competing for non-chartered teams.

Gragson, a five-time Xfinity Series race winner who failed to qualify for the 2021 Daytona 500 after being collected in a late multi-car wreck during the second Daytona Duel event, posted the 33rd-fastest qualifying time of 50.689 seconds at 177.553 mph, which was enough for him and his No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team to emerge as the fastest of the non-chartered competitors and teams on the leaderboard. With his accomplishment, Gragson will make his debut in NASCAR’s premier series and in the Great American Race this upcoming weekend.

“It’s pretty special,” Gragson said. “We have one employee [at Beard Motorsports] with [crew chief] Darren Shaw. We have a lot of help from [Richard Childress Racing] and a great power unit under the hood with ECR. The Beard family, Mrs. Beard and the rest of the family, they allowed me to come drive this race car. [Brendan Gaughan] called me about a year and a half ago, he asked me to come drive this car, and we came up short last year. To be able to make my first Cup start on Sunday, it’s really special. We were the fastest out of all the open cars, so that’s pretty good. [I’m] Gonna be busy this year with JR Motorsports and now the Beard Motorsports’ car this weekend, so super excited, super thankful, and just very proud.”

Villeneuve, who made his return to the Cup Series for the newly formed Team Hezeberg, posted the 36th-fastest qualifying time of 51.010 seconds at 176.436 mph as he guaranteed himself a starting spot for the 500 based on his speed. With his accomplishment, the 50-year-old Quebec veteran will be making his first Cup career start since competing at Sonoma Raceway in June 2013 and his first career start in the Daytona 500.

Photo by Patrick Sue-Chan for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“Obviously, it’s not a win,” Villeneuve said. “It’s not like winning the Indy 500 or the [Formula One] championship. But at this point in my career, the last time I tried to qualify here was 14 years ago, just to make the show is incredible. Because we’re a small team, we didn’t link up with a big team to get the car ready, and it’s highly unexpected to be able to make it on time. So it ranks right after these big wins.”

The remaining four open competitors that includes Kaz Grala, Greg Biffle, J.J. Yeley and Timmy Hill will compete for the final two open spots for the Daytona 500 through the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday night.

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule are a pair of Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona International Speedway that will determine the rest of the starting lineup for this year’s 64th running of the Daytona 500 scheduled for February 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The first Bluegreen Vacations Duel will occur on Thursday, February 17, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 while the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel will occur approximately two hours later at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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