Hendrick Motorsports had won the pole for the Daytona 500 for five-consecutive seasons ahead of Sunday’s front-row qualifying session for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season opener. But this time around, a team with a new driver and a Hendrick technical alliance powered by Hendrick engines took the top starting spot for NASCAR’s biggest race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted a 46.253-second/194.582 mph lap Sunday, his first qualifying lap as driver of the #47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, to claim the pole for the Feb. 16 race.
“Any time you can start the season off, your first race with an organization, and to see all the work that they’ve put in, guys at the shop that I didn’t even know were working Saturdays and late nights all for the benefit of me to come down here and jump in this car and run fast,” Stenhouse said. “Touring the Hendrick engine shop, they were pumped up for me to switch over into their horsepower, so this goes to a lot of people that work hard behind the scenes for me to come out here and drive. It’s a cool way to start Speedweeks.”
HMS still put one of its cars on the front row for this year’s Daytona 500, as Alex Bowman qualified second.
“We have a great Valvoline Camaro,” Bowman said. “I’m really happy with how the new Camaro has been so far. The front row is still really good. Obviously, we wanted the pole but just barely missed it, there. So hat’s off to the Hendrick engine shop, the fab shop, and all the guys that work on these things all winter. This is really all about them. As a driver, you can really only screw it up, so you can’t make it really go any faster. So I’m proud of all the guys, and we’ve got the best-looking car here with Valvoline on board. It looks awesome, and hopefully, we’ll be up front in the 500.”
Stenhouse and Bowman’s spots cemented for the Daytona 500 grid through Sunday’s qualifying session. The rest will be determined after two Bluegreen Vacations Duel races Thursday night. The lineup for those two races will be set by results from Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session.
The 36 teams with charters are guaranteed starting positions somewhere on the Daytona 500 grid. Among the seven drivers with open, or non-chartered teams, Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan also know they’ll score a Daytona 500 starting position somewhere on the grid after posting the fastest official laps among the seven. Haley was 31st, overall, and Gaughan was 33rd.
All four HMS cars were in the top-10 at the end of Sunday’s qualifying session, three immediately behind Stenhouse. Joining Bowman in the top-four were teammates Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson in third and fourth. Last year’s pole sitter, William Byron, was eighth.
“Hats off to the JTG guys. Hendrick Engines one-two-three-four, so that’s pretty cool,” Bowman said.
Denny Hamlin, the 2019 Daytona 500 winner, was the fifth fastest in front-row qualifying.
“I was happy with it,” Hamlin said of his lap. “I thought that anywhere inside the top-five I was going to be pretty happy with. Other than maybe 2016 or one of those years when we got the front row, it’s better than all the other results. Pretty happy with it. It gives us a great starting spot for Thursday, and I know our car is going to handle really well. All is good.”
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