DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the third consecutive season, the No. 24 team will start the Daytona 500 from the pole position.
In the process, Alan Gustafson has become the first crew chief since Ernie Elliott from 1985 to 1987 to win three consecutive poles for “The Great American Race.”
Elliott’s driver? Bill Elliott – father of current No. 24 driver Chase Elliott, who now has two consecutive Daytona 500 poles himself.
“That's really cool to me,” Chase Elliott said. “Somebody told me that a minute ago, and that's pretty neat. I'm happy to have a small part in that, for sure. I think that's really cool.”
Elliott was quick to point out that earning the Daytona 500 pole is all about the team and its hard work throughout the entire offseason. He deflected any credit onto his teammates.
“I think that’s where the attention should be, where it should be centered,” Elliott said. “It is a testament to them, and I am really proud of what they have done. Excited to get started this season and hopefully we can have a good run next week."
Last season, Elliott was involved in a multiple-car incident just 20 laps into his first Daytona 500. He returned to the track down 40 laps and ultimately finished 37th.
Once again, Elliott will start Sunday’s race from the pole position, but he said he’ll use last year as a learning experience and motivator.
“I think it does a little bit of both,” he explained. “I certainly learned things from it, and it motivates me to not want to do that, for sure.”
His crew chief agreed with that mindset.
“I don't think he necessarily needs to put it out of his mind,” Gustafson said of last year’s result. “I think he needs to learn from it, which I think he has, and it'll have him better prepared to go on Sunday.”
The pole position, Gustafson said, gives the team confidence in the speed of the car and the fact that it can run up front with anybody.
That confidence is only aided by the speed shown by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start alongside Elliott on the outside pole. It marks the fifth time that the organization has swept the Daytona 500 front row in qualifying.
“Just a great testament to the team effort and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and all the hard work,” Gustafson said. “Really proud for the organization, proud for the boss. Really happy for Chevrolet. Just a good day, all-in-all.”
As for Earnhardt, who will make his return to the driver’s seat of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS for the Daytona 500, he acknowledged that he wished he could have earned the pole for himself.
“But I am absolutely thrilled to have an all-Hendrick Motorsports front row,” Earnhardt said.
“It’s a good way to start the week.”