Bowman pilots Dale Jr.’s former car to Daytona 500 pole

Denny Hamlin takes second starting spot for season-opening race

Feb 11, 2018; Daytona, FL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series drivers Denny Hamlin (11) and Alex Bowman (88) pose for pictures after qualifying for the front row for next Sunday's Daytona 500 (Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports)

Alex Bowman captured the pole for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a speed of 195.644 mph in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, which was the former car of the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bowman, 24, had won Earnhardt’s vote as his replacement after he retired at the end of last season. Bowman served as a substitute driver filling in for Earnhardt in 2016 when the popular driver was battling concussion issues.


“It was just a little nerve-wracking,” Bowman, who will be racing in the Daytona 500 for just the second time in his career, said after Sunday’s qualifying. “We knew we were going for the pole. That’s what we’re here for.

“It’s still a little surreal. It’s a dream come true to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.”

Earnhardt, who had 17 career wins at Daytona and seven poles and is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, congratulated Bowman, tweeting, “Awesome! Great job @AlexBowman88 @TeamHendrick on the #Daytona500 pole! @Ives_Greg and the gang built a fast one.”

Denny Hamlin had the second-fastest speed at 195.092 mph in a Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing. Only the front row was locked in during Sunday’s qualifying session, with the remainder of the 40-car field being set at the 150-mile Can-Am Duels races on Thursday.