DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon scored the front row during Sunday’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway. This marks the second straight season and the third time overall that Hendrick Motorsports has had drivers start in the two top spots for the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, scored the pole position after circling the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 48.36 seconds at roughly 186 mph. While this is his first career pole position at the historic racetrack, it’s his third time starting from the front row. Earnhardt most recently joined his teammate Mark Martin on the front row for the 2010 Daytona 500, and he went on to finish second.
"I just had to hold it on the bottom as tight on the bottom as tight as I could to the apron. The power and the body and everything does all the work," Earnhardt said about his qualifying lap. "A lot of great guys working at Hendrick build some awesome cars. To be on the front row again for the second year in a row, we are real proud of that.
"Obviously it gives you good ideas that you have a great car, Earnhardt added. "Anybody can win the race. I mean there are guys that qualified outside the top-20 that have winning cars. So it is going to be a tough race to win. We're going to work really hard. The main thing it does for me is it takes a lot of pressure off for the qualifier. I can just go out there and have fun and try to just have fun winning the race. I don't have to worry about where I need to finish to get a good starting spot of the 500. We can just go out and try to have fun and win that thing and try to bring all the hardware home this week."
Once before did Hendrick claim the two top spots, and that was in 1989 with drivers Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip. Schrader earned the pole, while Waltrip started second, and the teammates flipped spots in the finish. Waltrip scored his first Daytona 500 victory, and Schrader took runner-up honors.
Gordon locked up the outside pole position after circling the speedway in 48.4 seconds at roughly 185 mph. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has started from the second position twice at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m so proud of these guys," Gordon said. "I know everybody talks about how hard you work, but these guys just pay so much attention to detail. And that’s why they’ve been on the front row here the last couple of years. I just get the pleasure of driving the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.”
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, earned the eighth spot, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, scored the 15th spot.
"We really expected to run better than this," Johnson said. "The wind seemed to kind of picked up a little bit, maybe that hurt us down the backstretch. We (Hendrick Motorsports) had two cars that went real fast and two cars that didn't go so fast so it is just hard to say."
Both Martin and Johnson will use Thursday’s Gatorade Duels as an opportunity to improve their starting positions. The Duels will air Thursday at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED.