By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hendrick Motorsports has it figured out when it comes to starting on the front row for the Daytona 500.
For the eighth year in a row, it will be a Hendrick driver will start on the front row for the Daytona 500, as the 2022 edition of the Great American Race features two of its drivers starting up front. Kyle Larson starts on the pole for the first time in the 500, with Alex Bowman alongside for his fifth straight front row start.
The team’s other two drivers, William Byron and Chase Elliott, timed in third and fifth during qualifying, but will be starting further back in the field on Sunday courtesy of their finishes in the Duels. Elliott will roll off from 11th, with Byron starting in 23rd.
Team owner Rick Hendrick was beaming with pride that even with the debut of the Next Gen cars, his team hasn’t missed a beat and was strong again in qualifying for the biggest race of the season.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pride in our organization for sitting on the pole at Daytona,” said Hendrick. “To us, that’s just a race all in its own. And to come down to Daytona, you know, this is the Super Bowl and to be the guys that sit on the front row or the pole, that’s bragging rights and guaranteed starting spot.
“Our team, our organization, feels like this is a race of that pole run is something that all of ’em have to work on. You know, everybody from the aero department, the engine department, everybody has their fingers in it to get the cars to run that fast. I’ve been down here when I had no shot at the pole and it’s a whole lot more fun to be on the pole.”
Jeff Gordon, who recently moved into a management role with Hendrick Motorsports as its vice chairman this season, echoed the pride that Hendrick showed for the effort the organization put forth, also making a note of Bowman’s front row streak.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Gordon said. “I heard Alex and all the drivers talking about, you know, the credit that goes to the engineers and the crew chiefs and the mechanics and the engine shop. The people that make an effort like that come to fruition. And I I’ve been a part of that before myself, but once they drop the green flag on Sunday, then a lot of it’s going to be in his hands.
“Just kind of reiterating what Rick was saying of how proud we are of the folks. I mean, a lot of unknowns, right? Everybody has a lot of unknowns coming into this season with the new car. And even though we’ve been extremely strong down here in the past, when it came time to qualify the, for the Daytona 500, we didn’t come down here, you know, knowing what we had.
“I think that’s what made that one even more special is, is, you know, looking at this car you know, looking how close the competition is, and just being proud of the details that that our folks pay attention to.”
Not only for Hendrick Motorsports, but for every team throughout the NASCAR Cup Series garage, the debut of the Next Gen car this season has placed a lot of unknowns for the Daytona 500 and for the races going forward.
Gordon has seen the Cup Series transition through various generation of race cars and noted one of the biggest challenges will be figuring out just how far the new car can be pushed before stepping over the edge.
“It’s still a race car,” Gordon said. “You still push it to the limits. And we’ve got a lot of confidence in our talented drivers that what they’re gonna be able to do is find out where that limit and that edge is. And then just stay right within it. But it’s definitely gonna take some time for them to figure out at each track what, where that is and, and exactly how far they can go to find speed.”
Along with the Daytona 500 front row streak, Hendrick Motorsports is coming off two straight Cup championships with Chase Elliott in 2020 and Kyle Larson in 2021.
Gordon explained that the combination of the team’s stable of drivers with Elliott, Larson, Bowman, and William Byron, along with the crew chiefs and everyone on the competition side puts the team in a unique position to keep up their momentum heading into the Next Gen era.
“You’ve got to take all the components, right? I think it’s the young driver lineup and talent, the chemistry that they have with their crew chiefs and car chiefs and pit crew. It’s where Hendrick Motorsports is at right now, at the top of their game. You put all those parts and pieces together and it certainly is a fun time to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports. Those teams right now are fun to watch and just fun to listen to.
“Rick alluded to it, but to have those four cars come down here and be that close to one another shows you what’s happening inside the company, inside the walls and how they’re sharing information, what they’re doing with the information, how they’re pushing one another.
“I think that’s one of our strengths right now. And our lineup is doing that very, very well. They’re constantly pushing one another, learning from one another, and also wanting to outdo one another. But all in a positive good way.”
Sunday’s 64th running of the Daytona 500 kicks off at 2:30 pm on FOX.