DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon will start his final Daytona 500 as the pole-sitter.
And right beside him will be teammate Jimmie Johnson, giving Hendrick Motorsports a sweep of the front row at the Daytona 500 for the fourth time in organization history.
The two finished first and second in Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying.
"To have a one-two for Hendrick Motorsports on the front row, that feels good. That's awesome," Gordon said. "Awesome job to my team, everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick, hey buddy, this is pretty awesome to be able to pull this off today."
For the first time, Daytona 500 qualifying moved to the group-qualifying format Sunday afternoon.
And the way it would play out was anyone's guess.
"It's extremely intense. There's a lot of strategy that goes into it," Gordon said in a FOX video before qualifying began. "You've got to watch the clock, as well."
The new qualifying format featured two five-minute sessions in the first round, and the 24 fastest cars advanced to another five-minute session for round two. From there, the top 12 cars advanced to the final round, and the top two competitors were named the front row for the 57th running of the Daytona 500.
"Without having testing, without the practice sessions and single-car runs and all that stuff, I think it's a better use of time," Johnson said at NASCAR Media Day. "And it's more entertaining."
It certainly was that, as all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers were in the second of the two first-round sessions. That came after the first qualifying session drew a red flag due to a multi-car incident.
"To have a one-two for Hendrick Motorsports on the front row, that feels good. That's awesome."Jeff Gordon
All four teammates moved to the second round, and Johnson (4th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8th) and Kasey Kahne (9th) were all in the top 10 for the first round, and Gordon was just behind them in 14th.
When the second round rolled around, Gordon had the fastest time after one lap, but Johnson closed the round with the fastest time. Once again, all four drivers advanced to the next round, led by Johnson in first, Gordon in fourth, Earnhardt in 10th and Kahne rounding out the field in 12th.
The final round brought more drama as 12 cars vied for the front row in the Daytona 500. The field waited until the very last moment to leave pit road, as the final car barely made it around the track to post an official time.
"That was pretty nerve-wracking," Gordon said. "This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I've ever had. Not just because my final Daytona 500, but because you've got to try to plan it out and you've got to try to play that chess match and we played it really, really well."
Gordon and Johnson finished one-two, while Kahne qualified sixth and Earnhardt was 10th.
"That just feels very gratifying just as a total team effort to be able to pull that off," Gordon said.
While Gordon and Johnson have their positions for next Sunday's Daytona 500 locked in, Kahne and Earnhardt's spots in the starting grid won't be finalized until after Thursday's Duel at Daytona. Johnson and Kahne will start in the first and second rows, respectively, in the second of the two 150-mile races on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Earnhardt will start that second race from the back of the field due to his qualifying time being disallowed. Gordon will start in the front row in the first Duel, scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
"Very interesting qualifying session, to say the least," Johnson said. "But I just want to say thank you to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for their hard work. To have all four cars in that final 12 is pretty cool, and obviously the front row is very special."
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET SS
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS