All in the Family
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., captured his first Daytona 500 Pole Award the 10th of his Sprint Cup Series career by tearing off a 186.089-mph (48.364 seconds) lap on the newly-paved Daytona International Speedway 2.5-mile oval.
Sunday will mark the second time an Earnhardt will start from the top spot on a Daytona 500 grid and the fourth time an Earnhardt will start a Daytona Sprint Cup Series race from the pole position. Earnhardt, Jr.'s, famous father snared the pole for the 1996 Daytona 500 and raced to pole awards for the 15th event of both the 1995 and 1994 seasons.
Earnhardt, Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 champ, will start the Great American Race on the front row for the third time in his career after qualifying second last season and in 2003.
"I feel great. It's hard for me to do all the talking because I didn't do anything today other than hold the wheel. The engine does a large majority of the work and the body on the car has to be perfectly situated to get the most speed out of the car. (Crew Chief) Steve (Letarte) has to plan the car out and get the attitude of the car just right for maximum speed.
"Those three things are the biggest players. I'm maybe five tenths of a percent of what happened today. All the credit really goes to all those guys that built the car, built the engine and put the car together in the 88/48 shop.
"In practice, we struggled. We weren't first and that's what I would call struggling. We were about a ninth - or 12th- place car. Steve found a little more speed in the last several hours and that was good. The (qualifying) lap was really, really clean. I felt good about my line," Earnhardt, Jr., said.
He will share the Daytona 500 front row with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who won the event in 2005, 1999 and 1997.
Gordon ripped off a 185.966-mph (48.396 seconds) lap and will start on the Daytona 500 front row for the third time. He won the 1999 race from the pole and started the 2006 Sprint Cup season opener second. He's made six overall front row Daytona starts in his 36 appearances at the track.
"It's always a great feeling to lock yourself in. 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 (Crew Chief) Alan (Gustafson) and his group. Obviously, they have a special knack for Daytona and Daytona qualifying. They just built a great racecar. "I got the pleasure of driving that racecar today, being on the front row. I thought we had a shot at the pole, but it's great to get Hendrick Motorsports one, two. I couldn't be more thrilled with the way things have gone this week so far," Gordon said.
The Hendrick tandem generated their team's third all-time Daytona 500 front-row sweep. Mark Martin won the pole for last year's 500 with Earnhardt starting alongside. Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip started first and second in 1989.
The remainder of the field for the 53rd running of the Great American Race will be set Thursday by the results of the annual Gatorade Duel races. Neither Earnhardt, Jr., nor Gordon can be knocked off the front row. Race coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. on SPEED.
Earnhardt, Jr., Gordon and their fellow Sprint Cup Series stars make their Kentucky Speedway debut in a 400-mile race July 9. The event will conclude Kentucky Speedway's season-opening weekend which also features a 225-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race July 7 and 300-mile NASCAR Nationwide Series event July 8.
The Kentucky Speedway season continues Oct. 1 with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series return engagement and an Oct. 2 open-wheel doubleheader featuring a 300-mile IZOD IndyCar Series battle and 100-mile Firestone Indy Lights sprint.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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