Alex Bowman will start first in the 2021 Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., but has never won the event. File Photo by Mike Gentry/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The front row for Sunday's 2021 Daytona 500 is set after Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron had the fastest times in single-car qualifying.
Bowman, who started second last year, drove his No. 48 Chevrolet 191.261 mph to claim the pole on Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. He finished 24th in the 2020 Daytona 500, while Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup Series event.
"I floored it, but I'm pretty sure everybody else did, too," Bowman told reporters on a Zoom video conference. "I'm just appreciative that my race car is really fast."
Bowman will start in the front row for a record fourth consecutive year at Daytona. He started second in 2019 and won the pole in 2018 for the "Great American Race."
"I'm so appreciative and blessed with this opportunity," Bowman said. "I think for me, it's really hard to sit here and be like, yeah, I did it, and I did this and that. That's why [Hendrick drivers] are on the pole for four consecutive years or on the front row for four consecutive years."
The pole winner has won the Daytona 500 just seven times in the race's 62-year history. Bowman has never finished better than 11th in his five starts at Daytona. He has two career Cup Series victories.
Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the Top 5 in Wednesday's time trials. The full 40-car field for Sunday's race also is determined by the results of two qualifying races. Positions 3 through 40 are filled by the results of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday at Daytona.
Finishers from the first duel will line up on the inside row on Sunday in the order of their duel finish. Finishers from the second duel will line up on the outside row of the Daytona 500.
The starting order for the duels -- each 60-lap races on the 2.5-mile speedway -- was determined by Wednesday's time trials. Odd-number finishers compete in the first duel and even number finishers compete in the second duel.
Almirola will start behind Bowman in the first duel on Thursday. Bubba Wallace will start behind Byron in the second qualifier.
"Hendrick always gives us great cars to come down here and qualify well and also race well, so you never know which guys are going to have the speed out of the four of us," Byron told reporters Wednesday on a Zoom video conference.
The 2021 Daytona 500 starts at 2:30 p.m. EST on Sunday and airs on Fox. Denny Hamlin is the favorite on most betting websites, followed by 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski are among the other top contenders.
The Daytona 500 is the first race on NASCAR's annual Cup Series calendar. Hamlin edged Blaney in a close finish last year. He also won in 2019 and 2016.
No driver has ever won the event three consecutive times.
Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning his second consecutive Daytona 500 on Monday. Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo