NASCAR

Larson takes Daytona 500 pole, Villeneuve guaranteed starting slot

Larson pipped 2021 poleman and Hendrick team-mate Alex Bowman to secure top spot for the 2022 season opener, the first points-scoring round of NASCAR’s Next-Gen era. 

Larson’s average lap speed in the final round was 181.159 mph – the fastest lap recorded in both rounds, after he’d been second fastest in the first runs.

His pole is the eighth consecutive Daytona 500 that a team powered by a Hendrick engine has started on the pole, and the ninth of the last 10. However, a Hendrick driver hasn’t won the 500 since 2014 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored an emotional victory.

“You’re always really proud of your team anytime you win a pole here because it has the littlest to do with us drivers,” Larson said.

“Just a huge thank you to the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports; everybody who’s played a part in touching these vehicles, whether it be on the computer or hands-on.

“It’s awesome, the speed in our Chevy. I believe it’s the beginning of a really good weekend.”

Bowman ended up at 181.046 mph and will make a NASCAR record fifth consecutive start on the front row of the season’s biggest race. He called his front row streak “unbelievable.”

“I’ve come down here not locked in, qualifying poorly and having to race our way in,” he said.

Villeneuve has made the 500 field, and start a Cup race for the first time since 2013

Villeneuve has made the 500 field, and start a Cup race for the first time since 2013

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“It says so much about Hendrick Motorsports. Congrats to (Larson) for getting the pole. It’s cool to have the record but I feel it should be (crew chief) Greg Ives and my race team should be the ones to get the credit for that record because the driver doesn’t really have much to do with it.

“Glad I didn’t mess it up for them.”

Fellow Hendrick driver William Byron, who was fastest in the first round, slipped to third ahead of top Ford driver Aric Almirola – the Stewart-Haas driver making his last 500 start in his farewell season – as 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott made it four Hendrick Chevrolets in the top-five.

Last season’s Cup Series runner-up Martin Truex Jr was the best-placed of the Toyotas, running sixth-quickest for Joe Gibbs Racing, while Ross Chastain (Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet), three-time 500 winner Denny Hamlin (JGR), Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse) and rookie Harrison Burton (Wood Brothers Ford) completed the top 10.

Based having the top two qualifying speeds among non-charter teams, 1997 Formula 1 world champion Villeneuve (Team Hezeberg Ford) and Noah Gragson (Beard Motorsports Chevrolet) are guaranteed to start Sunday’s Daytona 500.

It will be Villeneuve’s first start in the 500, which he last attempted to qualify for in 2008 driving a Bill Davis Racing Toyota, and his first Cup race start since Sonoma in 2013. 

Greg Biffle, Kaz Grala, Timmy Hill and J.J. Yeley will race in Thursday night’s qualifying races, battling for two remaining spots in the field for non-charter teams.

All drivers will race in Thursday night’s qualifying races to set the field for Sunday’s race. Larson and Bowman, however, are locked into their starting positions regardless of their respective performance.

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