Intensity levels increased dramatically on Sunday for the first group qualifying session in the 57th running of the Daytona 500. In what was said to be his final season, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has won the pole for the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
As cars scrambled to get out and literally made it on track with one second to spare before the black and red flags were out to end qualifying, Gordon was in the center of the pack. With the new format, which debuted last season, a driver wants to be at the back of a pack because they will get the draft off the other cars.
His pole run was at a speed of 201.293mph, which was the first time since Bill Elliott’s pole in 1987 where the pole sitter recorded a speed over 200mph.
“This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I’ve ever had,” Gordon told FOX after his run. "This year, with this qualifying format, the driver finally gets to play a role. That was pretty nerve-wracking."
This is Gordon’s second career Daytona 500 pole, with the first coming in 1999. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is set to make his 24th career start in the “Great American Race.”
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson will start alongside him on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. The teammates played a role in getting each other the front row starting positions by drafting with each other in the midst of a group of Chevrolet drivers. This is Johnson’s fourth career front row start for the 500.
After drivers voiced their displeasure with the results of the qualifying format at Talladega in October, NASCAR reviewed the way qualifying would go for the Daytona 500. However, albeit fans also did not approve of the group qualifying format, NASCAR enabled it to be used on Sunday.
During the fourth minute of Round 1, there was a multi-car crash, which created much criticism from drivers. Reed Sorenson, who is attempting to make the Daytona 500 for Team Xtreme Racing, had damage to the right-rear corner panel of his racecar. Clint Bowyer was looking to get around him as he got into the rear of Michael Annett when Bowyer and Sorenson made contact, and triggered a five-car pile-up, including Denny Hamlin, Bobby Labonte and J.J. Yeley.
Bowyer went on a rant after the accident that sparked a roar on social media.
“It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway,” Bowyer said in an angry tone to FOX. “There’s no sense in trying to put on some cute show for whatever the hell it is. Then you’ve got a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this.”
“We have to find a better system,” said Kurt Busch who missed the cutoff for Round 2, along with all of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates including 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick who qualified 29th. “So much hard work goes into these cars, and it seems like it’s a roulette system.”
It will be interesting in years to come on whether or not NASCAR implements this qualifying format for the Daytona 500 as well as the other three restrictor plate tracks.
The rest of the field for next Sunday’s race will be set by finishing position in each of Thursday night’s Budweiser Duels. There are some big name drivers who need good finishing positions in order to make the race.
Starting line-up for Budweiser Duel No. 1 Starting line-up for Budweiser Duel No. 2
1. Jeff Gordon 1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Denny Hamlin 2. Matt Kenseth
3. Kyle Busch 3. Kasey Kahne
4. Carl Edwards 4. Ty Dillon
5. Austin Dillon 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr
6. Jamie McMurray 6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Johnny Sauter 7. Greg Biffle
8. Trevor Bayne 8. Sam Hornish Jr
9. Aric Almirola 9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
10. Brad Keselowski 10. Ryan Blaney
11. Joey Logano 11. Michael Waltrip
12. J.J. Yeley 12. Bobby Labonte
13. Paul Menard 13. Alex Bowman
14. AJ Allmendinger 14. Ryan Newman
15. Kevin Harivk 15. Kurt Busch
16. Tony Stewart 16. Danica Patrick
17.Casey Mears 17. Brian Scott
18. Michael Annett 18. Justin Allgaier
19. Kyle Larson 19. David Gilliland
20. Michael McDowell 20. Jeb Burton
21. Clint Bowyer 21. Reed Sorenson
22. Justin Marks 22. David Ragan
23. Cole Whitt 23. Josh Wise
24. Landon Cassill 24. Mike Wallace
25. Ron Hornaday Jr.