By Shaun Burke
As qualifying ended for the 2011 Daytona 500, it started to sink in that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from the pole position in every NASCAR Sprint Cup event in the 2011 edition of Speed Weeks. Earnhardt Jr. turned a lap of 186.089 to win his tenth career pole and first ever at Daytona International Speedway and will likely give a ratings boost to the Daytona 500 next Sunday.
Jeff Gordon made it an all Hendrick Motorsports front row with a lap of 185.966.
Rounding out the top 5 were Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
One of the biggest surprises of qualifying was the lap laid down by Trevor Bayne of 185.445. Bayne, running for Wood Brother racing, was the fastest Ford in qualifying.
A scary moment occurred as the last car locked into the field rolled off the grid. Denny Hamlin’s car turned abrupt to the left and into the grass. Hamlin re-fired the car and completed his qualifying run leaving him with the 44th fastest lap in qualifying. After his run, Hamlin said his team is using a new steering column and “just locked and came to the left.”
Now that qualifying has completed, the front row for the Daytona 500 is set.
Based on the qualification rules for the Daytona 500, 3 bubble drivers have locked themselves into the Daytona 500: Bill Elliott, Travis Kvapil and Joe Nemechek by being the three fastest bubble drivers and Terry Labonte who will get the past champion provisional. No matter where they finish in the Gatorade Duals, these drivers are guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500 and the more than $250,000 guaranteed to finish last.
As qualifying wraps up, Daytona International Speedway will be quiet until Wednesday when practice for the Gatorade Duals begins.
Other notable qualifying positions:
Tony Stewart – 184.911 10th position
Kurt Busch – 184.896 11th position
Kevin Harvick – 184.740 14th position
Jimmie Johnson – 184.687 15th position
Jamie McMurray – 183.685 27th position
Kyle Busch – 183.595 30th position