Chase Elliott is two-for-two in winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Now, it’s up to Elliott to perform better in the race than he did a year ago.
Elliott won the pole for next Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway with a final-round speed of 192.872 mph. Joining him on the front row is Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his return to racing after missing 18 races in 2016 with a concussion. Earnhardt was slower by a few fractions of a second at 192.864 mph. It’s the fifth time Hendrick drivers have occupied both spots on the front row.
The remainder of the field will be set Thursday in the Can-Am Duel qualifying races. Elliott is one of five drivers to win consecutive Daytona 500 poles. Among the others is Elliott’s dad Bill, who owns the race qualifying record of 210.364 mph, set in 1987.
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Elliott also won the Daytona pole in 2016 in what was his first shot at qualifying for a Cup race in a full-time ride. A week later, in one of the most eagerly anticipated rookie debuts in NASCAR history, reality quickly set in when Elliott fell out of contention early after crashing on Lap 19. He would go on to finish 37th.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson said Elliott winning the pole last season had made for a challenging week of preparation for the 500.
“The whole week is probably the toughest,” said Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief. “There’s a lot of tension and a lot of unknowns. We saw some of the pressure maybe effect (Elliott). When you’re on the front row (of the Daytona 500), man, it’s crazy. It’s just chaos. There’s thousands of people everywhere. You can’t barely get next to the car, and having gone through that last year, I think that’ll help him a little bit. But I think he needs to learn from it, and I think he will.”
Elliott also remembers the week – and the day of the race – as being hectic and overwhelming.
“It was my first stab at a full-time Cup effort and it seemed like there was a lot going on,” Elliott said. “Going through the motions with all the folks that are here, whether they’re sponsors or people that NASCAR invited. Working through all those obligations, there’s a lot that goes with it.
“But then the race comes around and you get in the car. Then you flip on the switch and get out on the track.”