Alex Bowman put an old familiar car on top of the Daytona 500 leaderboard.
Bowman won the pole for “The Great American Race” in his debut as the official driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, piloted until last season by NASCAR rock star Dale Earnhardt Jr. Six of Earnhardt’s 17 career victories at Daytona International Speedway came in that car, including one of his Daytona 500 victories.
Earnhardt was a seven-time pole winner at Daytona, too.
Now retired, the empty seat in the No. 88 went to Bowman and he wasted no time making the Camaro his own. Bowman turned a lap at 195.644 mph on Sunday to earn the top starting spot for the Daytona 500.
“I think it’s still a little surreal,” said Bowman, who will race in his second Daytona 500.
“It’s a dream come true just to drive for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said. “I never would have thought it would happen after the path my career took.”
Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner, qualified second in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing with a lap at 195.092. Only the top two cars were locked into next Sunday’s season-opening race in this round of qualifying. The remainder of the field will be set by a pair of qualifying races on Thursday.
Brad Keselowski led a 1-2 Team Penske sweep in the exhibition The Clash at Daytona race that marks the opening of Speedweeks.
The three-car Penske contingent moved to the front of the field and had the race in control as they closed in on the checkered flag. Keselowski had a piece of garbage stuck to the front of his Ford, and that appeared to be his only challenge.
Ryan Blaney pulled out of line from behind Keselowski on the final lap in an attempt to beat his teammate, but he was left alone in the bottom lane at Daytona International Speedway and faded into traffic. Joey Logano didn’t have enough help to mount a challenge on Keselowski and had to settle for second.
Kyle Larson made contact with Jimmie Johnson on the final lap to trigger an accident that allowed Keselowski an easier route to victory lane.
Matt Hagan beat defending season champion Robert Hight in the Funny Car final in the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California.
Hagan edged Hight with a 3.823-second pass at 335.90 mph.
Doug Kalitta won in Top Fuel, and Bo Butner topped the Pro Stock field. Kalitta had a 3.779 at 324.28 to edge Tony Schumacher in the final, and Butner ran a 6.549 at 209.62 against teammate Jason Line.
Earlier, defending Top Fuel season champion Brittany Force escaped serious injury in a wall-banging crash in the first round. John Force Racing said the 31-year-old Top Fuel driver, the daughter of Funny Car great John Force, sustained no major internal injuries, but does have some bruising of the lungs and will remain hospitalized overnight as a precaution. The team said a CT scan was negative and an MRI showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries.
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