Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rockets to first Daytona 500 pole

Jim Utter
motorsport.com

Stenhouse, who went out 18th of the 42 cars who attempted to qualify, posted a blistering lap of 194.582 mph which held up the rest of the session to give him the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

It’s only the third career pole for Stenhouse, whose most recent came in the 2017 season. It’s also just the third for the JTG Daugherty Racing organization and first on an oval track.

Stenhouse joined JTG in the offseason after seven seasons with Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse snapped a five-year Daytona 500 pole winning streak by Hendrick Motorsports drivers.

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It his, however, the sixth consecutive Daytona 500 pole won by a Hendrick-powered engine.

“It’s cool,” Stenhouse said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be here and bring guys with me like (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) and Mike (Kelley). 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.

“That was our goal coming down here. 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.”

Asked what it meant considering the offseason transition, Stenhouse said, “It’s huge. 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.”

Hendrick driver Alex Bowman ended up second (194.363 mph). Both Stenhouse and Bowman are the only drivers locked into their starting position for next Sunday’s 500.

Chase Elliott ended up third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five in speeds.

Thursday’s duel qualifying races will set the lineup for the remainder of the field.

While their starting positions are not yet set, both Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan – driving for non-charter teams – posted qualifying speeds fast enough to lock themselves in the 500 field regardless of how they perform on Thursday.

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