- Jul 23, 2014
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon will start his twenty-third and final Daytona 500 from pole position, sharing the front row with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
The final group of twelve cars that progressed to the third and final phase of knockout group qualifying waited until the very last seconds of the session before starting their one and only timed lap, and in the end it was the four-time Cup Series champion Gordon who set the pole-winning lap at an average speed of 201.293 miles per hour around the famed 2.5 mile superspeedway, the fastest pole-winning lap for this event since 1987, and the fifth-fastest pole lap in the event's history. This is the second time that Gordon has started the Daytona 500 from pole position - he first did it in 1999, the year in which he won this race for the second time in his career, and with this seventy-eighth career Pole Award he has successfully secured at least one pole position in every single one of his twenty-three seasons in the premier class of NASCAR competition. 43-year-old Gordon said shortly after completing his run, "This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I've ever had."
Starting next to the overwhelming sentimental favorite of this race, is six-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who qualified second behind his Hendrick teammate and car owner Gordon to secure his fourth front-row start in the Great American Race. Johnson is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 (2006, 2013), and in his first appearance at this event in 2002, he secured pole position for the race.
For Hendrick Motorsports, who have won this event eight times in their history including last year with two-time Daytona winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it is the fourth time that their cars have locked out the front row of the Daytona 500.
The session was temporarily halted due to a five-car pileup during the first round of knockout qualifying, that involved five drivers, including journeyman driver Reed Sorenson, who tagged multiple former race winner Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing and started the shunt that caused a brief red flag period - the crash also collected 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and former Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte.
An irate Bowyer then unleashed a scathing tirade against the controversial qualifying format, new to the Daytona 500 this year: "It's NASCAR's fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing. We used to come down here and worry about who was going to sit on the front row and the pole for the biggest race of the year. Now all we do is come down here and worry about how a start-and-park like this out of desperation is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500. We've been at meetings for 45 minutes just to try and figure out what in the hell everyone is going to do, just so we can make the race. It's stupid. There's no sense in doing this."
Bowyer was not alone in expressing his frustrations over the new format this week - drivers including Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, and reigning Sprint Cup Series Champion Kevin Harvick each have criticized the new qualifying procedures today and over the past week, but Bowyer's critique was by far the harshest.
For Gordon and Johnson, their times and starting positions are secured. For the remaining forty-seven drivers, they will have to battle for the remaining forty-one starting positions in the two 150 mile qualifying races that comprise Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona. The fifty-seventh running of the Daytona 500 will commence 22 February.