Hendrick Motorsports tops speed charts
by Matt Taliaferro
The name “Earnhardt” is synonymous with Daytona International Speedway. The late Dale Earnhardt won a total of 34 races and three poles at the historic speedway, while son Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 13 victories at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Strangely enough, the one win Junior had yet to earn at Daytona was a pole.
That all changed on Sunday, when Earnhardt drove his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy to the top of the pylon with a fast lap of 186.089 mph, assuring a start on the front row of the Great American Race for a second straight year.
“The main thing (the pole) does for me is take the pressure off Thursday's race,” Earnhardt said of the Gatorade Duels. “I can go out and have fun and not worry about where I finish or getting a good starting spot for the Daytona 500.”
Joining Earnhardt on the front row is his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who laid down a lap of 185.966 mph to qualify second. HMS entries have now swept the front row for the 500 in consecutive seasons.
“It's always a great feeling to lock yourself in,” Gordon said. “This is the biggest race that we have. It's I think more of a sign of the effort that was put out by the team, so I'm really proud of Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and his group. Obviously they have a special knack for Daytona and Daytona qualifying.”
Thursday’s Gatorade Duels will set positions 3-39 for next Sunday’s 500. Earnhardt highlights the list of drivers in the first Duel, which includes among others, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Bud Shootout winner Kurt Busch.
Gordon will lead the second Duel to green alongside 20-year old Trevor Bayne in the Wood Brothers Ford. Notable entries in Duel No. 2 include Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and 2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray.
Hamlin suffered the one noteworthy incident in Sunday’s qualifying session. The steering wheel for his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was not locked into place as he exited pit road to post his run. The car took a hard left before he entered Turn 1, plowing through a grassy section of infield, but doing minimal damage to the grill and nose of the machine. He completed his two-lap qualifying run, but his speed was only 44th quickest.
Hamlin’s team has had an interesting week thus far, having also been forced to change an engine in his Bud Shootout car the day before the exhibition event.