DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon earned positions inside the top 10 during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne qualified 14th and 19th, respectively.
But the good news is, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers will get a chance to improve their starting spots in the Daytona 500.
NASCAR will use Sunday’s qualifying effort to establish the starting grids for Thursday’s Budweiser Duels, which begin at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Drivers with odd-numbered starting spots participate in the first duel, and the even-numbered qualifiers compete in the second one. That means, Earnhardt and Kahne will run in the first 150-mile event, while Gordon and Johnson will line up for the second race of the day at Daytona.
With the exception of the front row, the Duels determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The Great American Race will air on FOX at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 23.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
At Daytona: While Kahne still is looking for his first Daytona 500 win, he has reached Victory Lane previously at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. In 2010, he won the second Duel 150 qualifying race. In 20 Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, Kahne has two top-five finishes and seven top-10s, including a runner-up result in the July 2010 race.
In the 500: In nine starts at the Daytona 500, Kahne has earned two top-10 results with back-to-back seventh place finishes in 2007 and 2008.
Kahne says: “I feel like this could be a great season so my expectations are high. I go into each year thinking it’s going to be my best one. But this one definitely could, with the experience and each year trying to be more prepared and understand things a little bit better. Working with Jimmie (Johnson), Jeff (Gordon) and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) -- three of the best guys --doesn’t hurt either. I’m excited to get started and put the whole season together and be there at the end.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Daytona: The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS is the active leader in victories at Daytona International Speedway with six. Three of those wins occurred in the season-opening Daytona 500 (1997, 1999 and 2005). Gordon also has three poles, 12 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s in 42 Cup starts at Daytona.
In the 500: In 19 appearances at the Great American Race, he has earned three wins, five top-five finishes, three top-10s and one pole.
Gordon says: "I'm always excited heading into Speedweeks and the Daytona 500, and this year is no different. When I got back from vacation and started spending time at the shop with Alan (Gustafson, crew chief), the engineers and the team and hearing their thoughts on what we can do better as a team, how we can go faster – it's just exciting to hear that ahead of the season. And that excitement just builds until we hit the track in Daytona.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
At Daytona: In 24 Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, Johnson has earned three wins, eight top-five finishes, 11 top-10s and two pole positions. Johnson most recently won both the 2013 Daytona 500 and the ensuing July race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway to become the fifth driver all-time to complete the sweep. He became the first driver to give Hendrick Motorsports its first regular-season sweep at Daytona.
In the 500: Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 2006 and 2013. In 11 appearances at the Great American Race, he has earned five top-five finishes.
Johnson says: “The 56th running of the Daytona 500 is going to be awesome. I’m excited to head back to Daytona -- there is no other sensation greater than driving through the tunnel in Turn 4 and realizing how big of an event Daytona is. It’s such a great way to start the season. We had a great test, so I’m excited to get the season started. To say I’ve been able to win this race twice is also humbling.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
At Daytona: In 28 Sprint Cup starts at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Earnhardt has recorded two wins, 10 top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and has led 396 laps. Earnhardt notched his first pole position at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 2011, when Hendrick Motorsports won the front row for The Great American Race. Earnhardt, who averages a starting position of 11.3 and an average finish of 13.8 in 14 Cup seasons at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, has finished all but three points-paying events there during that time.
In the 500: Earnhardt has scored one win, six top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 14 Daytona 500 appearances. He went to Victory Lane in 2004 after leading 58 laps and defeating Tony Stewart by 0.273 seconds. With an average qualifying spot of 6.1 in The Great American Race, Earnhardt has paced the field in nine events for a total of 153 laps. He has led at least one lap in four of his six Daytona 500 starts while driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Earnhardt says: “I’m looking forward to going to Daytona, being in the car and being on the track and practicing. I’m really excited to just be back in competition.”