Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Chase Elliott earns Daytona 500 pole at age 20

DAYTONA BEACH — Chase Elliott was too young to really remember celebrating in Victory Lane with his father, dressed in a shirt that matched Bill Elliott's firesuit and a little finger pointed toward the sky because daddy was No. 1.

But here's a father-son snapshot Chase can savor forever: "Awesome Bill" waiting with a big embrace Sunday at Daytona International Speedway for the son who proved he's capable of following in some Hall of Fame footsteps.

Elliott kept the No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the second straight Daytona 500, with the rookie becoming the youngest driver to land the top spot in NASCAR's biggest race.

"I don't know if this opportunity has sunk in yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500," Elliott said.

The 20-year-old has the ride of a lifetime, taking the seat from retired four-time champion Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon, last year's pole-sitter for the 500, was in the broadcast booth at Daytona, calling the shots on Fox as the No. 24 went around the track without him for the first time since 1992.

Elliott has some practice following the great ones: Bill Elliott is a two-time Daytona 500 champion.

Elliott's top speed around the 2.5-mile superspeedway was 196.314 mph as he outran 43 others in front-row qualifying Sunday. He also showed that Hendrick could contend again after taking a backseat to Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske in 2015.

Nonetheless, the Gibbs cars continued their strong opening to Speedweeks by putting Matt Kenseth on the front row for next Sunday's 500. That came on the heels of Denny Hamlin's victory in Saturday's exhibition, the Sprint Unlimited, and Kyle Busch's 2015 Sprint Cup title.

Busch was fourth in Sunday's time trials, with Carl Edwards ninth and Hamlin 10th.

But Gibbs cares little about the buildup to the season opener. Year after year, his drivers prove to be the best of the bunch during Speedweeks but come up empty in the main event. He reminded Hamlin of that Saturday night in Victory Lane.

"I said, 'Try and get us a 500, will you?' " Gibbs said. "It's been 23 years since we were able to win one."

JGR won its only Daytona 500 in 1993 with Dale Jarrett.

Elliott won the pole at 20 years, 2 months and 17 days, besting 2014 pole-sitter Austin Dillon's mark of 23 years, 9 months and 27 days.

Gordon already sounded like a seasoned pro in the broadcast booth, asking his replacement how he could keep his momentum headed into "The Great American Race." Gordon was a three-time Daytona 500 winner and earned two poles in the No. 24. Elliott's speed earned team owner Rick Hendrick his 10th overall pole in the Daytona 500.

The rest of the Daytona 500 field will be set in Thursday's two qualifying races.

Wood Brothers driver Ryan Blaney and BK Racing's Matt DiBenedetto secured spots in next weekend's race as the two fastest drivers outside of NASCAR's new charter system, which guarantees 36 cars a starting spot in each race.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Kevin Harvick had non-compliant track bars, according to NASCAR, and had their qualifying times disallowed. They will start at the rear of the field in Thursday's duel races. So will Martin Truex — he did not make an attempt because a roof flap of his No. 78 Toyota was out of compliance, and the Furniture Row Racing team could not fix it in time.

 
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