William Byron put Hendrick Motorsports in a well-recognized place: on the pole for the Daytona 500. His greater purpose is to make the beginning spot pay dividends for the NASCAR powerhouse.
The 21-year-old Byron and 25-year-old teammate Alex Bowman locked within the entrance row for “The Nice American Race” throughout qualifying laps Sunday at Daytona Worldwide Speedway. They comprise the youngest entrance row in Daytona 500 historical past.
The coveted beginning spot hasn’t meant a lot for NASCAR’s season opener over the past twenty years, although. The final Daytona 500 pole-sitter to win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
The final 4 — Hendrick’s Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliott (twice) and Bowman — have didn’t notch a top-10 end.
“To have them on high of one another means the group did a heck of a job,” Hendrick stated. “That is the deal to sit down on the pole at Daytona.”
Byron and Bowman edged the opposite two Hendrick drivers: seven-time Cup Sequence champion Jimmie Johnson and fan favourite Chase Elliott.
“That is a fairly superb feat, I really feel,” stated longtime Hendrick crew chief Chad Knaus, who’s coming into his first season with Byron after 18 years with Johnson.
Knaus and Johnson landed the Daytona 500 pole of their first race collectively in 2002. After splitting with Johnson on the finish of final season, Knaus basically repeated the feat with Byron.
“I feel it is enormous,” Knaus stated. “We have had lots of late nights, lots of lengthy hours. The final time I got here right here with a brand new driver, we sat on the pole. That is actually particular for me.”
Byron reached a high pace of 194.304 mph within the ultimate spherical of qualifying, almost two-tenths of a second quicker than Bowman (194.153).
“I believed we have been going to be someplace within the hunt,” Byron stated. “I used to be excited to get down right here and see what we had. It is actually cool.”
The remainder of the 40-car lineup might be set by two qualifying races Thursday. Thirty-six of these spots are already crammed due to NASCAR’s constitution system.
Former Hendrick driver Casey Mears and Tyler Reddick secured two of the remaining spots within the Daytona 500. They posted the highest speeds of the six drivers vying for 4 open spots in NASCAR’s season opener.
“I actually really feel like we’ll have the ability to be aggressive,” Mears stated. “I can inform you this: I have been at Daytona with quite a bit much less and ran inside the highest 5.”
Joey Gase, Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman and Brandan Gaughan seemingly should race their method into the 500 through the qualifying races. Two of them will make it, and the opposite two will not.
Byron and his teammates will spend the week being lauded because the Daytona 500 favorites. Additionally they will attempt to keep out of hassle within the qualifying races.
“We need to care for the automobiles for certain,” Hendrick stated. “We do not need to put the automobiles in any pointless hurt’s method. It is type of a two-edge sword on the entrance row. You do not need to take an opportunity of tearing up a extremely good automotive, however you have to determine what to race.”
Hendrick has been outspoken about how tough the 2018 season was on the group, calling it one of many worst in staff historical past.
The Hendrick automobiles have been mediocre at greatest — Johnson didn’t win for the primary time in his Cup profession — and it took 22 races for the group to get its first victory. The ultimate tally included three victories for Elliott and no drivers within the championship-deciding finale for the second consecutive 12 months.
Hendrick responded by splitting up Johnson and Knaus, tasking Knaus with constructing one other staff round Byron. A brand new racing bundle in 2019 additionally ought to profit Bowman and Byron as a result of neither had a lot expertise beneath the previous guidelines.
For at the very least in the future or perhaps even per week, the strikes are paying off.
“You’re employed all these years coming down right here and also you need all of the automobiles to run properly,” Hendrick stated. “And when you’ve got one up entrance and a pair within the again, within the center; however it is a tribute to our group, the engine store, the chassis, physique store, and the groups to return down right here and run with 4 automobiles working that good. I am unable to consider it.”