Chase Elliott began his rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in style by clinching his first pole position.
Elliott was fastest at the end of the second round of qualifying for the Daytona 500, pipping Matt Kenseth by 0.065s with a lap of 45.845s (196.314mph.) At 20 years, 2 months and 17 days, he is the youngest-ever winner of a Daytona 500 pole, taking over from Austin Dillon who was 23 years, 9 months 27 days old when he achieved the same feat in 2014.
Elliott is making his first start in the Hendrick Motorsports #24, the car he has inherited from four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon who retired at the end of the 2015 season. The 20-year-old, who was Xfinity Series champion in 2014, made five Cup starts last season in preparation for his move to the top level as a rookie this season.
"It's such a special day, a great way to start 2016 for our team," said Elliott. "Daytona 500 qualifying day is such an opportunity for the teams to really, I feel like, show what they've done in the off‑season, the kind of work ethic they have, the amount of hours, the massaging they put in these race cars to find those extra hundredths and thousandths of a second that are so crucial on qualifying day.
"That's what it's all about today. I don't feel like it's about me. Nothing special I did to earn it. It's about those guys, the kind of car they brought to the racetrack. That's the biggest thing I look at," he said. "Just excited to be part of the race team. Want to make sure I try my best to do the job that they deserve."
Matt Kenseth put the Joe Gibbs Racing #20 on the front row alongside Elliott, just ahead of Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. and JGR's Kyle Busch in Sunday's qualifying times.
"It's funny the way this works. I was coasting around the apron, knew Chase was ahead of me, figured Junior was going to beat me, because he was faster the first round," said Kenseth. "I was pleasantly surprised when he dropped in right behind us.
"Never qualified in front row here before, so that certainly takes off some pressure for later in the week," he added.
Elliott and Kenseth are the only ones locked into position on the grid for next week's Daytona 500, the first race of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
The rest of the positions are decided by Thursday night's 150-mile Can-Am Duel heat races. Sunday's qualifying session sets only the starting position for the two Duels, with Elliott leading out a field consisting of those who finished the time trials in odd-numbered positions, and Kenseth at the head of a field consisting of the even-numbered qualifiers.
The qualifying times set by Stewart-Haas Racing duo Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers (deputising for the injured Tony Stewart this week) were deleted by NASCAR after it was found that the front track bars were not in compliance.
"We measured our TB in a different spot than they did and ended up with 1/4" too much rake," Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers said later on Twitter. "It was a simple mistake on our part and look fwd to racing Thursday night."
Martin Truex Jr., will join the SHR pair starting at the back in their respective Duels, after the #78 Furniture Row car's roof flap was also found to be out of compliance. The problem was spotted too late to be rectified and allow Truex to make his qualifying run.
"They didn't like the way it was landing when it went down," crew chief Cole Pearn explained. "I don't know, it was that way the whole way down pit road. I'm not sure what the problem was, it could have been easily fixed but either way they decided to put it on the five-minute clock when we were down there at the end. I don't know why we had to run it back here because there was no way we were going to get back here and get back out in time."
See qualifying times for the Daytona 500
See starting line-ups for the Can-Am Duel races
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