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Chase Elliott becomes youngest to win Daytona 500 pole

By Amanda Vincent, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 15, 2016 at 12:25 AM
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Chase Elliott began his stint as the heir-apparent to the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet formerly driven by Jeff Gordon by claiming the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Elliott became the youngest Daytona 500 pole sitter at the age of 20.

"I'm just so thankful for this opportunity," Elliott said. "Opportunities like this don't come twice, and I certainly want to make the most of this. It's very special and a very cool way to start our 2016 season with HMS and the No. 24 car, and like I said, I'm just very honored and blessed to be with the group of guys that we have. I think it's a special group. This entire team did such a good job on this car during this offseason."

Elliott did so by turning in a 45.845 second/196.31 mph lap during Daytona 500 front-row qualifying at Daytona International Speedway. He will be joined on the front row by Matt Kenseth for next Sunday's race.

Elliott follows in the footsteps of his father Bill Elliott, who won four Daytona 500 poles and holds the record for the fastest Daytona 500 pole-winning lap of 210.364 mph in 1987. Gordon won two Daytona 500 poles in the No. 24, including the 2015 pole.

"This is a very, very cool day," Elliott said. "I don't know that this opportunity has sunk in yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500, so this is very cool. I think the big thing is just the team and the Daytona 500 qualifying is about the team guys and the effort they put into these cars, and it's nothing special I did. It's really what kind of work they did this offseason to make it happen. Jeff knows all about that. ... This is very special and a great way to start the season."

Elliott and Kenseth are the only two drivers who know their starting spots for the Daytona 500. The rest of the starting grid will be set after the Can-Am Duel on Thursday. Elliott will start on the pole for the first duel race with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. alongside on the front row. Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch will line up on the front row of duel two.

Four teams without charters will race in the Daytona 500. While most of the race starting grid won't be determined until the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto guaranteed they would be two of the four drivers for non-chartered teams to make the Daytona 500. Blaney was the only driver with a charterless team to advance to the second round of qualifying. The other two open spots will be assigned Thursday.

"It is nice to be locked into the race," Blaney said. "The biggest relief for us is to know you are locked in and are good to be able to race in the 500. That kind of lets us go race on Thursday a little bit more than we would have instead of playing it conservative if we weren't locked in. It is nice to have such a fast car and be locked into the race. It is a load off our shoulders, for sure. I think anytime you can make it to the last round, you feel good about the speed of your race car. I think our speed is pretty good."

Blaney, whose Wood Brothers Racing team has an alliance with Team Penske, and Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were the last three to post times in round one, but despite having the second-to-fastest practice time, Keselowski failed to crack the top-12 in qualifying. Logano, the fastest in practice, was 12th, beating Casey Mears for the top transfer spot by 0.001 second.

Instead, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing were the class of first round. HMS drivers Earnhardt and Elliott were first and third in round one, while Gibbs drivers Kenseth and Busch were second and fourth.

Martin Truex Jr. didn't get to make a lap in qualifying Sunday. His No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota was in line on pit road, but one of his car's roof flaps was higher than NASCAR wanted. As a result, his team was put on a five-minute clock, but time ran out before the issue was remedied to NASCAR's satisfaction.

NOTES: NASCAR's new charter team ownership model guarantees 36 teams starting spots for the Daytona 500. ... Race fields have been reduced from 43 to 40 cars for 2016. ... Forty-four teams, eight not guaranteed starting spots, are entered for the 2016 Daytona 500. ... NASCAR went to a single-lap, two-round format for this year's front-row qualifying, with everyone making a lap in round and the 12 fastest in round one making a lap in round two. ... In the first round, cars went out in inverse order of their practice speeds. In the second round, the 12 advancing cars went out in inverse order of their first round speeds.

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