DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Alex Bowman won his third career Daytona 500 pole and will be joined on the front row by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson for the NASCAR season opener.
Hendrick’s dominance is no surprise.
Bowman, who missed five races late last season with a concussion, is on the front row of the Daytona 500 for the sixth consecutive year and the organization has produced a pole winner in eight of the last nine years.
Bowman, who received a new contract this season, hit a top speed of 181.686 mph and Larson hit 181.057. Both drive for Hendrick Chevrolets. The teammates will also start from pole in the two Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday night.
Jimmie Johnson made a triumphant return to NASCAR on Wednesday night, qualifying for the Daytona 500, a great start for the seven-time champion, who is heading into his first cup race since 2020.
Johnson, 47, returned from a two-year dalliance with IndyCar for a stake in Legacy Motor Club — and he quickly added his own by joining the 40-driver field in his No. 84 Chevrolet Wednesday night.
Yes, a reversal of the number 48 he rode when he won two Daytona 500s.
“I think I really have a chance to win,” Johnson said before qualifying. “If I survive and get through the first two stages, I really have a chance to win this race.”
WHO WILL WIN DAYTONA %00 IN 2023:Unpredictability is what makes racing special
NASCAR SCHEDULE: How to watch Cup Series races in 2023
NEWSLETTER: Sign up to receive daily sports news and features
Johnson will be joined on Sunday by another 40-year-old part-timer, former X-Games thriller Travis Pastrana. Pastrana said racing the Daytona 500 was one of his last motorsport goals and this is his last and best chance to get there. He landed a drive for Daytona in the #67 Toyota as the third entry for the NASCAR team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin.
With 36 drivers already entered into the 40-car field based on the NASCAR charter system, Johnson and Pastrana were among the six others battling for the last four spots on the Daytona International Speedway grid.
Johnson and Pastrana hugged in the pit lane after locking themselves in the race. You can rest for a night.
The last two open places and the starting order will be determined in the duel qualifying races on Thursday evening. Conor Daly, Austin Hill, Chandler Smith and Zane Smith will fight for the two open spots.
Smith was the first car in qualifying and stalled immediately before firing a second shot in his lap. Smith’s meager speed was at least better than Daly, who had oil line problems in his Chevrolet and didn’t complete a qualifying run.
Because NASCAR didn’t have practice at the superspeedway before Wednesday, teams didn’t have time to hit the track and work out kinks in their cars.
For Johnson, it felt like old times.
The former Hendrick Motorsports star appeared to have said goodbye to NASCAR after the 2020 season, but he never scored a podium in 29 starts in two IndyCar seasons. So it was back to NASCAR, only this time with a say in how operations were run. He bought into the Petty GMS Racing ownership group and quickly renamed it Legacy MC
Pastrana was a bigger long shot to make Daytona. He has won championships in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, rally racing and most recently offshore powerboat racing. He did a brief run at NASCAR a decade ago and drove a full Xfinity Series schedule for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013. He later said the switch to production cars resulted in far more struggles than he anticipated.
Pastrana drove the #67 Toyota like a seasoned veteran and will join 23XI drivers Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick in the field.