News & Media


Earnhardt to start from the 500 pole for first time

March 29, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Hendrick teammate Gordon to start outside; Elliott, Kvapil, Nemechek race way in

The pressure's off Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- until next Sunday, that is.

In Sunday's qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt edged Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the top starting spot in next Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

Duel 1

Lineup
Pos.DriverMake
2.Paul MenardChevrolet
3.Ryan NewmanChevrolet
4.Mark MartinChevrolet
5.Tony StewartChevrolet

Duel 2

Lineup
Pos.DriverMake
2.Trevor BayneFord
3.Clint BowyerChevrolet
4.Jeff BurtonChevrolet
5.Greg BiffleFord

Turning a lap in 48.364 seconds (186.089 mph), Earnhardt claimed the 10th Coors Light pole award of his career and his first at a restrictor-plate superspeedway. He'll try to win NASCAR's most prestigious race for the second time in the 400th start of his Cup career.

What Earnhardt -- and Gordon, for that matter -- won't have to worry about is racing for position in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Under the unique qualify procedure for the Daytona 500, the two fastest drivers in time trials are locked into the front row.

The rest of the field for the 53rd running of the Great American Race won't be set until the Duels are completed.

"The main thing [the pole] does for me is take the pressure off Thursday's race," said Earnhardt, who will start from the top spot in the first qualifying race. "I can go out and have fun and not worry about where I finish or getting a good starting spot for the Daytona 500."

Gaining a slight edge through Turn 1, Earnhardt narrowly beat Gordon (48.396 seconds, 185.966 mph) for the top spot on the grid.

It was the third Daytona 500 front-row sweep for Hendrick Motorsports, which placed Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip first and second in 1989. Mark Martin won the pole for last year's 500, with Earnhardt starting on the outside of the front row.

Rookie Trevor Bayne (185.445) was third fastest in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard (185.422), Clint Bowyer (185.223) and Jeff Burton (185.071).

Bayne was elated by his strong run -- and equally impressed by the drivers starting ahead of him.

"If I'm going to get knocked off by somebody, I'm sure the fans were glad it was Dale Jr.," said Bayne, who briefly held the second spot before Earnhardt's pole-winning run. "But to be sitting third behind two of the most well-known drivers in NASCAR -- and Jeff Gordon my childhood hero -- I mean, this is incredible."

Bill Elliott (17th fastest), Travis Kvapil (20th) and Joe Nemechek (21st) all earned guaranteed spots in the 500 as the three fastest drivers among those required to qualify on speed. Terry Labonte also knows he will start the race, thanks to a provisional available to the most recent past champion not otherwise qualified.

Notes-n-Nuggets

-- Dale Earnahrdt Jr. won his first career restrictor-plate pole in his 400th career Cup Series start and 45th career restrictor-plate race.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sixth driver to win a pole in his 400th start.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has started in the top 10 in 11 of his 12 Daytona 500's.
-- This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s first Daytona 500 pole in his 12th Daytona 500 start. He is the ninth different Daytona 500 pole winner in the past nine races -- seven were first-time Daytona 500 pole winners.
-- This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 10th career pole in his 400th Cup Series race.
-- Hendrick Motorsports has won the pole for three of the past four Daytona 500s.
-- This is the third time Hendrick Motorsports swept the front-row for the Daytona 500 -- Ken Schrader won the pole in 1989 and Darrell Waltrip started second and in 2010 Mark Martin won the pole with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second.

Four more starting positions are available in Thursday's Duels, two from each race.