NASCAR: Alex Bowman puts No. 88 on the pole for Daytona 500

By: 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Bowman put a familiar car atop the Daytona 500 leaderboard.

Bowman won the pole for "The Great American Race" in his debut as the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, piloted until last season by NASCAR rock star Dale Earnhardt Jr. Six of Earnhardt's 17 career victories at Daytona International Speedway came in that car, including one of his Daytona 500 victories.

Earnhardt was a seven-time pole winner at Daytona, too. Now retired, the empty seat in the No. 88 went to Bowman, and he wasted little time making the Camaro his own. Bowman turned a lap at 195.644 mph Sunday to earn the top starting spot for the Daytona 500. "I think it's still a little surreal," said Bowman, who will race in his second Daytona 500.

"It's a dream come true just to drive for Hendrick Motorsports," Bowman said. "I never would have thought it would happen after the path my career took."

Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner, qualified second in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing with a lap at 195.092. Only the top two cars locked in spots for next Sunday's season-opening race in this round of qualifying. The remainder of the field will be set by a pair of qualifying races Thursday.

Bowman was a driver struggling to piece together a schedule when Earnhardt was injured in 2016. Earnhardt missed the second half of that season with a concussion, and Bowman was tabbed to fill in for 10 of those races.

The 24-year-old Arizona native impressed Rick Hendrick enough that when Earnhardt said he would retire at the end of 2017, Bowman got the job.

He made his boss proud, too, with the pole-winning run. Hendrick is now tied with Harry Ranier for the record of most consecutive Daytona 500 poles at four. Jeff Gordon won the pole in 2015, Chase Elliott won it the past two seasons and now Bowman has the honor.

Bowman downplayed his role. "I just held the steering wheel. It's Daytona," he said.

Indeed, pole qualifying is a display of horsepower and there's no doubt that Hendrick Motorsports has it for "The Great American Race." Hendrick put Chevrolet on the pole for the sixth consecutive year.

 

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