Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s replacement takes Daytona 500 pole. First mission accomplished


Cope Earnhardt

The 24-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday with a lap miles per hour of 195.644.

Denny Hamlin, the 2016 victor, qualified second in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing with a lap at 195.092.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AXALTA Chevrolet, takes part in pre-race ceremonies for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2017 in Homestead, Florida. It is Bowman's second career pole, the other coming at Phoenix in 2016 when he was subbing for an injured Earnhardt.

"It's a dream come true just to drive for Hendrick Motorsports", Bowman said.

"I don't think it does much good to treat this much different than I ever have in the past, other than perhaps just not get too wrapped up in worrying about every last detail and have some fun", Patrick said. The Christian college based in Lynchburg, Virginia, has sponsored Byron since he started his racing career in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Series at age 16.

But Earnhardt retired at the end of last season and the empty seat went to Bowman, who drove 10 races filling in for Earnhardt when Earnhardt was sidelined in 2016 with a concussion.

The rest, as they say, is history. He earned the Xfinity Series championship as a rookie a year ago, and won eight races and almost the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015, also as a rookie.

"I realistically set my expectations and would have been happy with 18th", Hamlin said.

"I know we've come close at Daytona a few times now".

Defending NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr., also a Toyota driver, was 26th and searching for the same speed the Gibbs cars displayed. "We just come here to win", he said. "I don't know, new rules package and all, we're just trying to figure that out". It's cool. It kind of gives me a chance to get away from everything for a little bit.

"I was like, 'Man, where was I on that one?' It would have just been a good gamble to use the backup but didn't think of it soon enough and was honestly just really concerned about the work getting done to put the primary auto out there for the 500". In the inaugural Daytona 500 that year, Johnny Beauchamp was initially declared the victor following a photo finish, but a three-day review confirmed Lee Petty had won. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick had the fastest Ford at eighth and was followed by Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won two plate races last season.

"I didn't think we would run that fast", Harvick admitted. We're still learning ways as a team to make moves better and to position ourselves in front of the field and stay there. Depending on the entry list, a poor finish can eliminate a driver from racing in the 500 entirely.

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