DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon earned spots inside the top six during Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway. Earnhardt scored the third spot, while Gordon took sixth. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne qualified 12th and 24th, respectively.
NASCAR uses Sunday’s qualifying effort to establish the starting grids for Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, which begin at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED. Drivers with odd-numbered starting spots participate in the first duel, while the even-numbered qualifiers compete in the second one. That means, Earnhardt will run in the first 150-mile event, while Gordon, Johnson and Kahne 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. 26.
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 found Victory Lane at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. In 2010, Kahne won the second Gatorade Duel 150. In 16 Cup starts at Daytona, the driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet has two top-five finishes, including a runner-up result in the July 2010 race, and six top-10s.
In the 500: In eight 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 think it would change my life some (to win the Daytona 500) because the race is such a big race. NASCAR does so much with it, and there is so much media involved in winning the Daytona 500 that it would definitely be a huge boost. It would be something great to have, a race that you won that is as big as it gets for us. I would love to do it.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Daytona: Gordon will make his 20th start in the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26. In 2011, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet qualified for the outside pole position, joining teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the front row for the Daytona 500. The three-time Daytona 500 champion has earned six total victories, three pole positions, 12 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s during his 38 Cup starts at the track.
In the 500: Gordon won the Daytona 500 in 1997, 1999 and 2005. In 19 appearances at the Great American Race, he has earned five top-five finishes, three top-10s and one pole.
Gordon says: “There isn’t anybody that doesn’t want to win the Daytona 500. I think that’s the difference. It doesn’t matter whether its restrictor-plate race or not or how much skill or luck goes into it, you want to win it. The longer you go without winning it, the more challenging it becomes and the harder you think it is and when you do accomplish it, I think there is that much more meaning behind it. This race means the world to a race car driver.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
At Daytona: In 20 Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson has one win, six top-five finishes and nine top-10s. His lone Daytona 500 victory happened in 2006, the same year he began his record five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship run. Johnson’s last Gatorade Duel victory was in 2010 which landed him third place start in the Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet has an average start of 9.4 and finish of 17 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
In the 500: Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 2006. In 10 appearances at the Great American Race, he has earned four top-five finishes and two poles.
Johnson says: “I look at the Daytona 500 as we are only here to win the race. If we finish fifth, sure the points are nice, but a lot of others will do anything to win this race even if it means a last-lap crash and you finish 40th. The (Daytona) 500 it is the biggest race we have so you’re going to do anything and everything you can to win it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
At Daytona: In 24 Sprint Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt has recorded two wins, eight top-five finishes, 13 top-10s and has led 396 laps. Earnhardt notched his first pole position at the 2.5-mile superspeedway during last year’s Daytona 500 qualifying. He averages a starting position of 10.5 and an average finish of 15. In 12 Cup seasons, Earnhardt has finished all but three events at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
In the 500: Earnhardt has scored one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10s in 12 Daytona 500 appearances. He went to Victory Lane in 2004 after leading 59 laps and defeating Tony Stewart by 0.273 seconds. With an average qualifying spot of 5.1 in the Great American Race, Earnhardt notched his first pole position at the 2.5-mile superspeedway during last year’s Daytona 500 qualifying. The driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet has paced the field in nine events for a total of 153 laps. He has led at least one lap in each of his four Daytona 500 starts as a Hendrick Motorsports driver.
Earnhardt says: “To NASCAR’s credit, they’ve been working really hard trying to put it back into the driver’s hands and give the driver’s control of their destiny instead of pairing up and having to take care of each other out there on the racetrack all the time. You want to be stubborn and looking out for yourself only, that’s how you want to do it so they are trying to go in that direction. I give them a lot of credit for trying really hard and hopefully we made a lot of good changes so we will see.”