Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins Daytona 500 pole

by Justin Nguyen

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s new tenure at JTG Daugherty Racing is off to a good start as he won the pole for the Daytona 500. It is Stenhouse’s third NASCAR Cup Series pole and first at Daytona International Speedway.

Stenhouse, driving the #47 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, recorded a lap time of 46.253 seconds at 194.582 miles per hour. Alex Bowman, who started on the front row for the last two races and won the 2018 pole, trailed at 46.305 seconds and 194.363 mph. The two will start Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels on the pole. With Stenhouse edging Bowman out, he snaps a five-year 500-pole-win streak for Hendrick Motorsports, though JTG is a Hendrick ally.

Hendrick drivers swept the second row with Chase Elliott (46.319 sec, 194.305 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (46.419 sec, 193.886 mph), the latter running his final 500 as a full-time driver. The fourth HMS driver William Byron (46.767 sec, 192.443 mph) qualified eighth.

It is Stenhouse’s first pole since the 2017 Talladega Superspeedway spring race, where he scored his first Cup victory, and JTG Daugherty Racing’s first since A.J. Allmendinger swept the road courses (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International) in 2015. JTG team-mate Ryan Preece, who moved from the #47 to the #37 for 2020, qualified seventeenth (46.969 sec, 191.616 mph).

“Any time you can start the season off, your first race with an organisation, and to see all the work that they put in, guys at the shop that I didn’t even know were working Saturdays, working late nights, all for the benefit of me to come down here and jump in this car and run fast,” Stenhouse said in an interview with Fox after clinching the pole. “Tuner in the Hendrick engine shop, they were pumped up for me to switch over into their horsepower, so this goes to a lot of people that work hard behind the scenes for me to come out here and drive. It’s a cool way to start Speedweeks.”

Although Stenhouse will not run the Busch Clash on Sunday afternoon, he is eligible to compete in the 2021 edition.

With forty-three drivers entered and forty spots available, three of the seven non-chartered (“Open”) cars will not qualify for the 500. Two slots on the grid were guaranteed for open cars via qualifying speed, which Brendan Gaughan and Justin Haley clinched with their Sunday runs. Gaughan, racing in the 500 for the last time, was the thirty-third fastest with a 47.633 time and 188.945 mph. Haley, the reigning Daytona Race #2 winner and in his and Kaulig Racing‘s maiden 500, was thirty-first at 47.364 seconds and 190.018 mph.

The five remaining open drivers will duke it out in the Duels for the final two spots. Reed Sorenson, hoping to make his first 500 since 2016, was the third-fastest of the seven in thirty-fourth (48.037 sec, 187.356 mph). Timmy Hill (48.225 sec, 186.625 mph), gunning for his first 500 appearance, and Daniel Suárez (48.523 sec, 185.479), in his first race with Gaunt Brothers Racing, were behind Sorenson. J.J. Yeley, driving the #54 for Rick Ware Racing in an full-time campaign, was thirty-ninth. The slowest of the seven was Chad Finchum in forty-first (49.515 sec, 181.763 mph), trying for his first 500 in a second MBM Motorsports car.

Sorenson, Suárez, and Finchum are assigned to Duel #1, while Hill and Yeley are in the second.

B.J. McLeod, driving the #52 for RWR, did not set a qualifying time after breaking a transmission on Saturday.

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