Ricky Stenhouse Jr. streaks to pole position for Daytona 500

With a blistering lap at 194.582 mph on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. broke the Hendrick Motorsports monopoly on Daytona 500 pole positions—sort of.

In his first competitive trip in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, Stenhouse covered the 2.5-mile distance in 46.253 mph to lock himself into the top starting spot for next Sunday’s Great American Race (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Admittedly, Stenhouse had a Hendrick engine under the hood of his Camaro as he streaked to the third NASCAR Cup Series Busch Pole Award of his career and his first at Daytona. And, true, enough, Hendrick Motorsports drivers—Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson—posted the next three fastest laps, with Bowman securing second starting spot for next Sunday’s season opener with a lap at 194.363 mph (46.305 seconds).

In winning the third pole for his new organization, and its first on an oval, Stenhouse broke a streak of five straight poles for Hendrick drivers. What didn’t end was the string of eight straight Daytona 500 poles for Chevrolet, dating to Danica Patrick’s only career top starting spot in 2013.

With superspeedway specialist Brian Pattie working his magic as Stenhouse’s crew chief, the No. 47 JTG Daugherty machine was sleek enough and strong enough to eclipse William Byron’s 2019 pole-winning speed of 194.305 mph, the same speed Elliott matched with the third-fastest lap on Sunday.

“It’s cool,” Stenhouse said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be here and bring guys with me like Brian and Mike (Kelley, whose wind-tunnel work was crucial to the effort). They’ve been working hard, they’ve are in my corner and they’ve been behind me throughout my career.

“The Hendrick horsepower was amazing. Obviously, we’ve got quite a few Hendrick cars lined up behind us. Our Camaro was really strong. The wind started picking up down the back straightaway – a little headwind.”

After leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of last season, Stenhouse and his team accomplished the No. 1 priority set during the offseason.

“That was our goal coming down here,” Stenhouse said. “Pattie was working really hard in the offseason toward that goal. We cut bodies off and put them back on – so this goes out to the whole shop.

“Anytime you can start the season off with a new organization and see all the work they put in – guys in the shop that I don’t even know are working late nights. All for benefit of me to come down here and jump in this car and run fast.

“This goes to a lot of people who work behind the scenes for me to come out and drive. It’s a cool way to start Speedweeks.”

The only other driver to lock up a specific starting spot for the Daytona 500, Bowman will take the green flag from the front row for the third straight time in NASCAR’s most prestigious race. Bowman’s finishes, however, haven’t matched his starts.

“My friends call me ‘Bad-Luck Bowman,’” said the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, whose best finish in the Daytona 500 is 11th, posted last year. “Superspeedway racing—everybody wants to say it’s all about luck. It’s really not. It’s how you position yourself throughout the day.

“Sometimes luck gets involved in it, and you get caught up in somebody else’s mess, or something happens right in front of you or whatever, but it’s really about how you position yourself and what you do throughout the day and what positions you put yourself in.

“I would love to be a super lucky person. Obviously, I’m pretty lucky to get to drive race cars for a living. Sometimes I think situations could go better for me, but I think it’s more about the situations you put yourself in.”

At the other end of the qualifying spectrum, Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan claimed to the first two staring spots available to non-chartered cars by posting the 31st and 33rd fastest laps, respectively. The remaining two positions in the 40-car field will be filled by the running of the Bluegreen Vacation Duels 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.

Those two races (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will also determine the starting order for next Sunday’s race.

Johnson was fourth in Sunday’s time trials as he begins his final season of full-time Cup racing. Defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin posted the fifth-fastest lap, tops among Toyota drivers, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. Aric Almirola had the seventh-best lap in the fastest Ford.

William Byron, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Christopher Bell and Erik Jones completed the top 10.