For the eighth time in nine seasons, Hendrick Motorsports captured the spotlight in a Daytona 500 pole qualifying session as Alex Bowman muscled his way to win the pole position for this year’s 65th annual running of the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
The qualifying format that determined the front row of this year’s 500 event was based on two qualifying sessions comprised of a single-lap session for each competitor. Following the first round, the top-10 fastest qualifiers from a total of 42 transferred to the second and final single-lap round to contend for the pole and a front-row starting spot.
In the end, Bowman, who was the antepenultimate competitor during the first session and the final competitor during the second session rolled his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the track to post a qualifying lap. He secured the Busch Light Pole Award after posting a blazing pole-winning time of 49.536 seconds at 181.686 mph, which was enough to knock teammate Kyle Larson off the top of the qualifying chart. It was the 11th consecutive Daytona 500 pole for Chevrolet and the 16th overall for Hendrick Motorsports.
With his accomplishment, the 29-year-old Bowman from Tucson, Arizona, notched his fourth NASCAR Cup Series career pole and his third in the 500, which placed him in a tie with Fireball Roberts, Ken Schrader and Dale Jarrett for the second-most 500 poles in the series history. He also extended a personal record by claiming a front-row starting spot in the 500 for a sixth consecutive season. Bowman’s third 500 pole occurred in his first Cup points-paying qualifying attempt with his new crew chief Blake Harris, who replaced veteran Greg Ives after Ives retired from being a crew chief at the conclusion of the 2022 season. It also occurred after Bowman inked a three-year contract extension to remain at Hendrick Motorsports earlier in the day as he now attempts to win his first 500 in what will be his seventh start this Sunday.
“That’s the trick, right? We’ve, obviously, not been able to [win the Daytona 500] for the last five years,” Bowman said on FS1. “[We’re] Just trying to make the right decisions and transfer everything over to race trim for Sunday the best we can. Just so proud of Hendrick Motorsports, the engine shop, all the guys. This Ally No. 48 Camaro’s, obviously, really fast. I don’t have a lot to do with qualifying here. Just fortunate to qualify some really fast race cars. Really cool to see Hendrick Motorsports one, two, three. I’ll take it. It’s pretty cool.”
Joining Bowman on the front row will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson, who posted the second-fastest qualifying time of 49.708 seconds at 181.057 mph as Hendrick competitors swept the front row for the 500 for the eighth time in 14 seasons. This season will mark both the second consecutive season and second overall where Larson will start on the front row for the Great American Race after winning his first 500 pole a year ago. Like Bowman, Larson will vie for his first 500 victory with this season marking his 10th career start in the Great American Race.
“[Owner Rick Hendrick]’s, obviously, really excited,” Larson said. “I think this is a big deal for him and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, the engine shop at Hendrick. Really cool for the No. 48 team. That’s awesome. That’s pretty incredible, so hats off to that team. Congrats to Alex. Proud of everybody on the No. 5 team as well. It’s really awesome to be on the front row and know if you just finish the Duels tomorrow and don’t have to go to a backup car, you get to start on the front row on Sunday. Really looking forward to the Duels, getting some more laps, getting comfortable and then, get to race it on Sunday.”
William Byron, the 2019 Daytona 500 pole winner, posted the third-fastest qualifying time of 49.799 seconds at 180.727 mph as he will be one of the remaining 40 competitors to vie for their official starting spots for the 500 through a pair of Bluegreen Vacations Duel that will take place on Thursday, February 16. Veterans Aric Almirola and Joey Logano completed the top five in qualifying time and speed while Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Kyle Busch, all of whom advanced to the second and final qualifying round, rounded out the top 10 on the qualifying chart. Busch originally posted the sixth-fastest qualifying lap, but his time was stripped by NASCAR after he went below the yellow line boundary on the backstretch to complete his qualifying lap.
Bubba Wallace, who was one of 32 competitors who did not transfer to the second round, posted the 11th-fastest qualifying time of 49.997 seconds at 180.011 mph followed by Daniel Suarez, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, rookie Ty Gibbs and Tyler Reddick.
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson and Travis Pastrana were left celebrating on pit road with their respective teams and with each other after both achieved guaranteed spots for this year’s Daytona 500 by being the fastest two qualifiers competing for non-chartered teams.
Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and a two-time Daytona 500 champion with 83 career wins, emerged as the fastest competitor competing for a non-chartered team after posting the 23rd-fastest qualifying time of 50.202 seconds in 179.276 mph, which was enough to lock himself and his No. 84 Carvana Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team into the field. The accomplishment comes as Johnson enters the 2023 season as a part-time owner and competitor of Legacy Motor Club, rebranded from Petty GMS Motorsports, following a two-year absence from NASCAR competition. Sunday’s Daytona 500 will mark his 20th start in the Great American Race and the first of select events that have yet to be determined aside from the inaugural Cup event at the Chicago Street Course for Johnson.
“It feels great,” Johnson said. “Just a massive thank you to everyone at Legacy Motor Club. It’s been a lot of work to get three cars here, especially with how late this opportunity came along for me. That was stressful. It was hard to tell inside the car if it was a good lap or not. The RPM range is much different than the last time I was in a car and it just sounded flat and felt slow, but we’re sitting in a great spot as the fastest unchartered car. Very thankful for that.”
Pastrana, a former NASCAR and stunt competitor with championship-winning and X Games gold medals across supercross, motorcross and rally competition, posted the 25th-fastest qualifying time of 50.208 seconds in 179.254 mph, which was enough to fulfill a childhood dream by securing his No. 67 Black Rifle Coffee Toyota TRD Camry team owned by 23XI Racing into Sunday’s main event. With his accomplishment, he will make his inaugural presence in NASCAR’s premier series during Sunday’s main event as he has previously made 42 career starts in the Xfinity Series and five in the Craftsman Truck Series. Pastrana’s previous NASCAR national touring series career start to date occurred during the Truck Series Playoff event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September 2020, where he finished 21st.
“I tell you what, qualifying for the 500, this is literally a dream come true,” Pastrana exclaimed. “This is bigger than big. Thank you so much to Black Rifle [Coffee], Dixon for giving me the opportunity to be here and for Denny [Hamlin], Michael [Jordan], everyone at the 23XI team for giving me a great car. I was sweating having to go to tomorrow. Like Kurt Busch said, now we go to tomorrow, now we learn. Now, the work starts.”
The remaining four open competitors that include Zane Smith, Austin Hill, Chandler Smith and Conor Daly will compete for the final two open spots for this weekend’s Daytona 500 through Thursday’s Duels. Smith, who was the first competitor to roll off of pit road to post his qualifying lap, rallied from stalling his car due to a mechanical issue with his No. 13 Quick Tie Inc. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that forced the Georgian to return to pit road before he returned two competitors later to post his qualifying lap. Daly was the only competitor who did not post a qualifying lap due to an oil line issue to his No. 50 BitNile Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as he will start his Duel at the rear of the field.
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule are a pair of Bluegreen Vacations Duels that will determine the rest of the starting lineup for this year’s 65th annual running of the Daytona 500 scheduled for February 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. First, on Thursday, the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel is slated to commence at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 while the second Duel event will follow suit at approximately 8:45 p.m. ET on FS1.