Larson wins Daytona 500 pole

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson (right) and Alex Bowman will share the front row of the Daytona 500. (Dave Moulthrop photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Hendrick Motorsports continued its Daytona 500 qualifying dominance as Kyle Larson was the fastest driver Wednesday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

It wasn’t a question of whether a Hendrick driver would take pole, it was a question of who that driver would be.

It was defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson who earned his first Daytona 500 pole with a fast lap of 181.159 mph. Alex Bowman finished second at 181.046 mph in the No. 48 Chevrolet as he starts on the front row for the fifth consecutive year.

“It’s really neat,” Larson said. “Any time you’re really proud of your team for getting a pole here, that’s the least it has to do with us drivers qualifying on the superspeedways. Just a huge thank you to Hendrick’s engine shop Motorsports. Anyone who has had a hand in handling these vehicles, whether it’s on the computer, engineering, or just in the field. It’s really neat, just awesome the speed of our Chevy I hope this is the start of a very good weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports swept the top three spots with William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet third at 180.85.

Aric Almirola prevented Hendrick Motorsports from sweeping the top four spots. Almirola qualified fourth with a fast lap of 180.527 mph, which was faster than driver Hendrick Chase Elliott’s lap of 180.314 mph in the #9 Chevrolet.

Positions 6-10 were Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota, Ross Chastain’s Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin’s Toyota, Daniel Suarez’s Chevrolet and Harrison Burton’s Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

Suarez was the first driver to hit the track in the final 10-driver round. He finished his lap at 179.619 mph. But with the four Hendrick drivers as the final four to attempt qualifying, the drama was whether they would sweep the top four.

But Elliott’s lap at 180.314mph was a bit slower than Aric Almirola’s at 180.527mph, as he split the Hendrick Motorsports quartet.

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Jacques Villeneuve, winner of the Indy 500 in 1995, entered the Daytona 500 on Sunday. (Dave Moulthrop photo)

Noah Gragson and Jacques Villeneuve locked themselves into the Daytona 500 starting lineup based on the two fastest times among the drivers without the benefit of a charter.

Villeneuve is the Indianapolis 500 winner in 1995, the CART champion in 1995 and the Formula 1 champion in 1997.

These drivers worked their way into the line-up on the opening lap, when all 42 cars completed single laps around the 2.5-mile fast lane.

At the end of this session, Byron was the fastest in the #24 Chevrolet with a lap of 180.850. The Hendrick Motorsports teammate and Larson were next in the No. 5 Chevrolet ahead of the other two Hendrick cars, including Bowman in the No. 48 at 180.469 mph and Elliott in the No. 9 at 180.263 mph.

Almirola, Chastain, Burton, Hamlin and Suarez round out the top 10 in round one.

Those 10 drivers qualified for the final round which determined the front row and helped establish the line-up for Thursday night’s two Bluegreen Vacation Duels.

The results of matchup #1 fill the inside of each row with the finish order of matchup #2 filling the outside of the rows.

The highest ranked Open car from each Duel will qualify for the Daytona 500.

Although it was a very tight gap between the first and the rest of the 42 cars, the pole speed of 181.169 mph was the slowest since 1967, when Curtis Turner took pole at 180.831 mph.

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