Chase Elliott won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday by winning the multi-round qualifying session; he also had the fastest time in the first round.
It was Alan Gustafson’s third consecutive pole at the Great American Race as crew chief for the 24 car - having also been on the cart with Elliott last year and Jeff Gordon in 2015.
Owner Rick Hendrick swept the front row, as fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr was second with a time just 0.002 seconds slower than the pole-winning time.
It was almost the perfect return for Dale Jr., after seven months out of racing with concussion issues, although it was hard to tell he’d been away with him locking himself into the outside front row.
With many people’s favorite for the 500, Joey Logano, not making it out of round one of qualifying, it was left to Brad Keselowski to try and achieve Roger Penske’s first pole at the showpiece race, but he could only manage third – 0.044 seconds back of the best lap.
He, along with all of the other drivers, will have to battle it out in the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday to determine their starting spots for Sunday’s race.
Clint Bowyer (46.736), taking over in the #14 Stewart-Haas car from the retiring joint owner Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr (46.800) rounded out the top five.
Defending Cup Champion Johnson knocked out in first round
Other than Logano – winner of the rain-delayed Clash race earlier today – a few more big names were knocked out in the first round, including defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.
The top 12 drivers that advanced to the second round were separated by less than 0.007 seconds and it was Elliott that topped that list too.
Denny Hamlin (46.823), Kevin Harvick (46.829) and Kasey Kahne (46.853) finished qualifying sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
Other than the top two, the positions were spread between the three manufacturers, with no single organization having a particular advantage.
That trend continued throughout the top 12 with Matt Kenseth (46.871), Ryan Newman (46.876) and Kyle Busch (46.932) finishing ninth through 11th.
Ty Dillon was the surprise face in second round of qualifying
Rookie Ty Dillon in the Germain Racing Chevrolet rounded out the Top 12 with an impressive time of 47.009, reminding people that the Rookie of the Year contest is about more than just the two favorites Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.
Of the 42 participants, six drivers had to try to gain entry on time or finishing positions in the midweek Duels.
Two of those drivers were able to guarantee their starting spots today, and the two spots went to Elliott Sadler for Tommy Baldwin Racing and Mark Beard’s independently owned car driven by Brendan Gaughan.
For the remaining four race-to-get-in drivers, their last opportunity will come in the Duels on Thursday and the slowest two will be going home.