Chase Elliott Wins Daytona 500 Pole for Second Straight Year, Dale Jr. to Start Second

Chase Elliott will start the 2017 Daytona 500 in a familiar place: first.

Although the 21-year old doesn’t know what winning a race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series feels like quite yet, he does know what it feels like to start on the pole for The Great American Race.

He did it last season as a rookie, and he did it again to kick off his sophomore season with a speed of 192.872 mph (46.663 seconds) in his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet. The pole is his third of his career, as he also started P1 at Talladega last season.

“Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season,” Elliott said after qualifying to FS1. “This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks, as they showed with Jeff Gordon and then last year with here and Talladega.” All three of his pole awards have come at restrictor plate tracks in his short career.

Elliott became the fifth driver to win consecutive poles for the 500 and the first since Ken Schrader won three in a row from 1988-1990.

“That stuff doesn’t just happen by staying the same,” the 2015 XFINITY champion went on to say. “Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster, and the engine shop is always finding new things. So I think that’s just proof that they’re improving with everybody else and taking that next step, which is really impressive. I’m happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can run good next Sunday.”

Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, has a knack for this Daytona 500 qualifying thing, too. This is the third year in a row that he has put the No. 24 car in the top spot. In 2015, Gordon’s farewell season, they won the pole. Last season, Elliott, Gustafson and company topped the charts again. And this year, same result.

“I’m pretty shocked honestly,” Gustafson said in the media center. “I thought yesterday we didn’t have great speed in comparison to the competition, we were a little bit off […] we threw a lot at the car today. Changed a lot of things we’d typically not like to change. Just a good day, all in all.”

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will roll off second, making up an all-HMS front row for the 2017 Daytona 500. If Junior topped the scoring pylon in his first qualifying session since missing the final 18 races of 2016 due to a concussion, it would have been something out of Hollywood, but he missed out on the pole by a mere .002 seconds.

Elliott was the final car to take time in the second and final round of qualifying, and knocked the No. 88 off the board, spoiling what would have been yet another year of a remarkable storyline somehow landing the pole.

In 2013, Danica Patrick became the first female to earn the top starting spot in her first season full-time at NASCAR’s top level as well. In 2014, Austin Dillon put the famed No. 3 car back in the No. 1 spot at Daytona, as team owner Richard Childress opted to bring back the famed number. And in 2015, Gordon’s farewell season kicked off with a pole in the biggest race of the season.

“I certainly would have loved to have gotten a pole,” Earnhardt Jr. told reporters after qualifying. “But my boss man [Rick Hendrick] is happy. I just talked to him on the phone, and he’s got to be thrilled with having his cars up front.”

Rounding out the top ten qualifiers were Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. Other notables include Kyle Busch in 11th, Jimmie Johnson in 14th, Joey Logano in 17th, Kurt Busch in 22nd and Austin Dillon in 26th.

Out of the non-chartered “open” teams, Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler secured spots in the race on Sunday, leaving two more spots up for grabs for D.J. Kennington, Reed Sorenson, Corey Lajoie and Timmy Hill. But those theoretically don’t matter.

The front row starters are locked into place. But the rest of the starting field will be determined by the finishing order in the Can-Am Duels (qualifying heat races) on Thursday, Feb. 23. If you win the first duel, you’ll start third. If you win the second duel, you’ll start fourth. If you finish second in the first duel, you’ll start fifth. If you finish second in the second duel, you’ll start sixth, and so on. It’s not that confusing, I promise.

Qualifying at restrictor plate tracks usually don’t matter, but the Daytona 500 is a whole different animal, due to the unbelievable number of hours these teams put in testing a variety of different things throughout the whole offseason.

“Daytona 500 pole day, as it should be, is more about the teams than anything else,” Elliott said. “That’s where the attention should be.”