By Doug Halberstadt
The front row is set for the Great American Race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be on the pole behind the wheel of the No. 88 Amp Energy/Mountain Dew Chevrolet Impala, and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon will be right next to him piloting his well-known No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet as they lead the remainder of the field to the green flag in this Sunday’s (Feb. 20) Daytona 500.
It was the third Daytona 500 front-row sweep for Hendrick Motorsports, which placed Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip first and second in 1989. Mark Martin won the pole for last year’s 500, with Earnhardt starting on the outside of the front row.
Turning a lap in 48.364 seconds (186.089 mph), Earnhardt claimed the 10th Coors Light pole award of his career and his first at a restrictor-plate super speedway. He’ll try to win NASCAR’s most prestigious race for the second time in the 400th start of his Cup career.
The rest of the starting positions will be determined in tomorrow’s (Thursday, Feb. 17) two Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races.
“The main thing [the pole] does for me is take the pressure off Thursday’s race,” said Earnhardt, who will start from the top spot in the first qualifying race. “I can go out and have fun and not worry about where I finish or getting a good starting spot for the Daytona 500.” Gordon will lead the field to the green in the second duel.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson turned in the 15th-fastest time in last Sunday’s qualifying. Former Rockford Speedway American Short Tracker champion Travis Kvapil had a lap time of 48.841 seconds for the 20th-fastest time.
The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 will be broadcast on Fox local channel 39 beginning at noon.