DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon earned the outside pole position for the Daytona 500 during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS toured historic Daytona International Speedway at roughly 196.292 mph in 45.850 seconds to capture his eighth front-row start in a Cup event there and his fourth in the Daytona 500.
Gordon’s teammates rounded out the top 21: Kasey Kahne in sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 11th and Jimmie Johnson in 21st.
DUELS AHEAD: Gordon’s spot on the front row is safe for Sunday’s Daytona 500, but his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have another chance to improve their starting spots during one of two Budweiser Duel 150 races on Thursday (SPEED at 2 p.m. ET). Odd-numbered qualifiers (likely Earnhardt in 11th; Johnson in 21st) will compete in the first Duel, while even-numbered qualifiers (likely Gordon in second; Kahne in sixth) will run in the second event. These starting positions also will be based on qualifying times. The top 15 finishers in both 150-mile heats will determine positions No. 3-32 in Sunday’s Daytona 500 – odd-numbered finishers on the inside row; even-numbered finishers on the outside.
HENDRICK FRONT ROW: Gordon’s outside pole position marks the 11th for Hendrick Motorsports and its ninth in the Daytona 500. The organization has captured a spot on the front row in 20 Cup events at Daytona and swept the front row in three of those races (1989 Daytona 500, 2010 Daytona 500 and 2011 Daytona 500). Previously, two of those outside pole starts turned into victories (Geoff Bodine in 1986 and Darrell Waltrip in 1989). Earnhardt notably finished second after starting from the No. 2 spot in 2010.
RESTRICTOR-PLATE POWER: Gordon is the all-time leader in restrictor-plate victories with 12 total in 40 starts. He has six wins, three pole positions, 12 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s at Daytona. He won the Daytona 500 in 1997, 1999 and 2005.
MILESTONE START: Johnson will make his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup start when he lines up for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS has one win, six top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 22 Cup starts at Daytona. His one victory was the 2006 Daytona 500.
EARNHARDT IN THE 500: Earnhardt has scored one win, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 13 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 5.1 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 five Daytona 500 starts in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
STRONG ON SUPERSPEEDWAYS: In 52 combined Cup starts on superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway), Earnhardt has recorded seven wins, 18 top-five finishes and 27 top-10s. He has a 13.2 average starting position and a 14.8 average finishing position on these tracks.
KAHNE 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 Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying race. In 18 NASCAR 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.
SUPERSPEEDWAY STATS: In 36 starts at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Kahne has recorded a combined five top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. He recorded back-to-back seventh-place finishes in the Daytona 500 in 2007 and 2008 and two runner-up finishes in the fall races at Talladega in 2006 and 2009. Three of Kahne’s 14 career wins happened on tracks two miles or longer -- Fontana, Calif., Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway.
HENDRICK AT DAYTONA: In 58 points-paying events (186 starts) at Daytona, Hendrick Motorsports has achieved 10 wins, 44 top-five finishes, 80 top-10s and has led 1,380 laps. Six of those wins were earned in the Daytona 500, with the most recent two happening back-to-back with Jeff Gordon in 2005 and Johnson in 2006.
LOCAL FOLKS: Two members of the No. 5 Chevrolet team hail from the Sunshine State. Kenny Francis, crew chief of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS, made a name for himself behind the wheel of a gokart in Jacksonville and went on to earn his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Florida. No. 5 team front-tire changer Johnny Roberts grew up surfing the waves near his hometown of Titusville.
HALF MARATHON: Prior to qualifying on Sunday, Kahne and Johnson participated in the Daytona Beach Half Marathon. The 13.1-mile course featured jaunts around Daytona International Speedway as well as the neighboring beach itself. Kahne finished in 1:28:44, while Johnson crossed the line roughly a minute later (1:29:48). Click here to watch a video from the event.