DAYTONA BEACH — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won the pole for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500.
Stenhouse turned a fast lap at 194.582 mph to put his new Chevrolet Camaro on the pole for next Sunday’s race. Stenhouse is making his debut with JTG-Daugherty Racing after Roush Fenway Racing abruptly fired him late last year.
“It’s a good way to start our relationship with JTG,” Stenhouse said. “We definitely have something to prove.”
Stenhouse edged Alex Bowman for the top spot. Bowman reached 194.363 mph around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway to lock down the front row. Only the top two spots were determined in the single-car qualifying. The starting order for the rest of the 40-car field will be set by a pair of qualifying races Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Even so, the Hendrick Motorsports entries clearly have speed: Stenhouse receives power from Hendrick, and Hendrick drivers Bowman, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson were second through fourth on the speed chart.
Defending race winner Denny Hamlin was fifth fastest.
There was an opportunity in Sunday qualifying for two teams that don’t hold charters to lock into the field, and the slots went to Brendan Gaughan and Justin Haley. Haley was the surprise winner of last July’s rain-shortened race at Daytona, getting the victory for Spire Motorsports during a lengthy weather delay.
It was his third and final Cup Series start in 2019.
“We definitely have a car fastest enough to win this race under green-flag conditions,” said the 20-year-old Haley, who is now driving for Kaulig Racing.
The start-up team doesn’t have a backup car on hand and expects to be really cautious in its qualifying race.
“It was pretty crucial for us, obviously,” Haley said. “I didn’t think I was going to be that nervous. But there were a little bit of nerves even though I have a couple of Cup starts. This is still the Daytona 500, something I’ve always dreamed about.”
Haley is the youngest driver in the field. The oldest guy got in, too.
The 44-year-old Gaughan plans to make four starts this year — all at superspeedways — before retiring. He has one top-five finish in 62 career Cup starts, at Talladega in 2004.
“I never knew when the last one was going to be,” Gaughan said. “I know when this one is. We made it, we’re here and I’m going to have a bitchin’ time.”
Daniel Suarez, booted the weekend of last year’s season finale, landed a ride with a non-chartered team and will have to race his way into the 500 after failing to qualify on speed.