Alex Bowman sets blistering pace in Daytona 500 qualifying

Wednesday was a banner day for Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman.

After announcing a contract extension that will keep him in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet through 2026, Bowman sped to his third DAYTONA 500 pole position, dominating both rounds of times trials at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

The numbers are staggering—and not just Bowman’s final-round qualifying speed of 181.686 mph (49.536 seconds), which eclipsed the pole-winning speed of teammate Kyle Larson (181.159 mph) in the 2022 debut season of NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series car.

On Wednesday, Bowman eclipsed Larson in a different way. Larson ran 181.057 mph (49.708 seconds) to lock his No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet into a front row start for the Great American Race. Hendrick driver William Byron was third fastest in the final round at 180.727 mph.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, part owner of newly-christened Legacy Motor Club, celebrated his return to NASCAR after a two-year hiatus by locking into the DAYTONA 500 with a lap at 179.276 mph, fastest among the six drivers of unchartered cars and 23rd overall.

With four career Busch Light Pole Awards to his credit, Bowman will start on the front row in the DAYTONA 500 for a record sixth consecutive time. Hendrick drivers have won eight of the last nine DAYTONA 500 poles, and Chevrolet drivers have won the last 11.

“I’m just so proud of Hendrick Motorsports engine shop, all the guys,” Bowman said. This Ally 48 Camaro is obviously really fast. I don’t really have a lot to do with qualifying here, so just fortunate to qualify some really fast race cars.

“It’s really cool to see Hendrick Motorsports 1-2-3.”

Larson’s consolation for missing out on his second straight DAYTONA 500 pole was the guaranteed second-place starting position. Bowman and Larson will start first Thursday night in their respective Bluegreen Vacations Duels, twin 150-mile qualifying races that will set the starting order for Sunday’s main event.

“Congratulations to Alex,” Larson said. “He’s got a lot longer legs than me, so I think he can push the gas pedal down further. But I’m proud of everybody on the 5 team as well… I’m really looking forward to the Duels, get some more laps, get comfortable and then get to race it on Sunday.”

Ford drivers Aric Almirola, Joey Logano (reigning Cup champion), Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric (defending race winner), and Harrison Burton were fourth through ninth fastest, respectively.

Kyle Busch’s final-round qualifying time was disallowed after he dipped below the yellow line between the racing surface and the apron in an attempt to draft off Cindric’s car, which had just completed its lap.

Bubba Wallace narrowly missed the final round and was the quickest Toyota driver in the 11th position.

Johnson, a former Hendrick driver, was relieved to put his No. 84 Chevrolet into the show.

“It was stressful,” Johnson said. “It was hard to tell inside the car if it was a good lap or not. The RPM range was much different from the last time I was in a car. It just sounded flat and felt slow.

“But we’re sitting in a great spot as the fastest unchartered car, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Travis Pastrana also locked into the field for Sunday’s race with a lap at 179.254 mph—second among the open cars and 25th fastest overall—leaving Zane Smith (29th fastest), Austin Hill (32nd), Chandler Smith (41st) and Conor Daly to vie for the final two positions via Duels.

Daly had to forego his qualifying run because of a mechanical failure he described as “one in a million.” The oil heater in Daly’s No. 50 Chevrolet shorted out and burned an oil line. His TMT Racing team didn’t have a replacement oil heater, and the part proved scarce throughout the garage.

Pastrana was elated to secure a starting spot for his No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota.

“I just can’t say enough about this 23XI team,” Pastrana said. “I mean everyone from (team consultant) Kurt Busch to (owner) Denny Hamlin to (teammates) Bubba (Wallace) and Tyler (Reddick), they all just helped me get there.

“And this TRD motor and being able to get on the (simulator), that was everything. Can’t give them enough credit for this opportunity.”