Earnhardt takes Daytona 500 pole

Dale Earnhardt Jr claimed pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500 as Jeff Gordon completed the third ever Hendrick Motorsports front-row sweep for NASCAR's top event

Earnhardt takes Daytona 500 pole

As the stock-car community commemorates the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's fatal accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, his son - NASCAR's most popular driver - will get to see the green flag wave from pole position next Sunday in the first points event of the 2011 Sprint Cup season.

At the wheel of his #88 Chevrolet Impala, Earnhardt set a fastest lap of 48.364 seconds at an average speed of 186.089 mph, beating the previous benchmark which had been set a few minutes before by his team-mate Gordon.

Earnhardt thus gets his partnership with new crew chief Steve Letarte off to a great start, while giving his boss Rick Hendrick a seventh pole and also a third front-row sweep for the Daytona 500.

"Obviously this gives you a good idea that we've got a great car, but anybody can win the race," said Earnhardt, who has yet to win for a second time for Hendrick Motorsports since his maiden victory with the team in a points race back in 2008.

"It's going to be a tough race to win. We're going to work really hard. The main thing this does for me is it takes a lot of pressure of for the [Gatorade Duel] qualifier. I can just go out there and have fun, try to have fun winning that race.

"Don't really need to worry about where I need to finish. Just need to bring all the hard work home this week."

Gordon also got off to a good start in his partnership with new crew chief Alan Gustafson, securing his third ever Daytona 500 front-row start.

"We're here to win so we're going to do everything that we feel like we need to do to try to win this race," said Gordon, win-less since a victory early in the 2009 season at Texas.

"You're going to have to take risks along the way and I'm just so happy right now that all the hard work has paid off and we're on the front row. That's step one."

Rookie Trevor Bayne, who will be making only his second ever Cup start next weekend, impressed by setting the third-fastest speed of the day at the wheel of Wood Brothers' #21 Ford.

Richard Childress Racing's new driving Paul Menard, another one starting a new role in style, was fourth-fastest ahead of four other Chevrolets, including two of his RCR team-mates.

However, besides the front-row Hendrick duo, they will all have to go through next Thursday's Gatorade Duels to determine their starting position for the season-opener.

Securing a place on the grid through speed were Bill Elliott, Joe Nemechek, Travis Kvapil and Terry Labonte, the fastest of the non-guaranteed drivers in qualifying.

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was 15th fastest and slowest among the Hendrick roster. Last year's runner-up Denny Hamlin had a bizarre incident, running onto the infield grass while coming out of the pits to start his qualifying run, as the steering wheel came off his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

The four remaining spots in the field for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 will be earned through Thursday's Gatorade Duels.

Pos Driver Car Speed Time Gap 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 186.089 48.364s 2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 185.966 48.396s + 0.032s 3. Trevor Bayne Ford 185.445 48.532s + 0.168s 4. Paul Menard Chevrolet 185.422 48.538s + 0.174s 5. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 185.223 48.590s + 0.226s 6. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 185.071 48.630s + 0.266s 7. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 185.003 48.648s + 0.284s 8. Mark Martin Chevrolet 184.991 48.651s + 0.287s 9. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 184.911 48.672s + 0.308s 10. Greg Biffle Ford 184.911 48.672s + 0.308s 11. Kurt Busch Dodge 184.896 48.676s + 0.312s 12. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 184.763 48.711s + 0.347s 13. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 184.748 48.715s + 0.351s 14. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 184.740 48.717s + 0.353s 15. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 184.687 48.731s + 0.367s 16. David Ragan Ford 184.612 48.751s + 0.387s 17. Bill Elliott Chevrolet 184.532 48.772s + 0.408s 18. Carl Edwards Ford 184.475 48.787s + 0.423s 19. AJ Allmendinger Ford 184.290 48.836s + 0.472s 20. Travis Kvapil Ford 184.271 48.841s + 0.477s 21. Joe Nemechek Toyota 184.222 48.854s + 0.490s 22. Matt Kenseth Ford 184.102 48.886s + 0.522s 23. David Reutimann Toyota 184.019 48.908s + 0.544s 24. Brad Keselowski Dodge 184.008 48.911s + 0.547s 25. Michael Waltrip Toyota 183.966 48.922s + 0.558s 26. Dave Blaney Chevrolet 183.794 48.968s + 0.604s 27. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 183.685 48.997s + 0.633s 28. Regan Smith Chevrolet 183.681 48.998s + 0.634s 29. Kasey Kahne Toyota 183.602 49.019s + 0.655s 30. Kyle Busch Toyota 183.595 49.021s + 0.657s 31. Bobby Labonte Toyota 183.576 49.026s + 0.662s 32. Brian Vickers Toyota 183.557 49.031s + 0.667s 33. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 183.456 49.058s + 0.694s 34. Joey Logano Toyota 183.206 49.125s + 0.761s 35. Todd Bodine Toyota 183.057 49.165s + 0.801s 36. Kevin Conway Toyota 182.949 49.194s + 0.830s 37. Casey Mears Toyota 182.867 49.216s + 0.852s 38. David Gilliland Ford 182.697 49.262s + 0.898s 39. Steve Wallace Toyota 182.574 49.295s + 0.931s 40. Michael McDowell Toyota 182.434 49.333s + 0.969s 41. Robby Gordon Dodge 182.120 49.418s + 1.054s 42. Terry Labonte Ford 181.492 49.589s + 1.225s 43. Robert Richardson Jr Ford 181.466 49.596s + 1.232s 44. Denny Hamlin Toyota 181.316 49.637s + 1.273s 45. JJ Yeley Chevrolet 180.977 49.730s + 1.366s 46. Andy Lally Chevrolet 180.828 49.771s + 1.407s 47. Derrike Cope Toyota 177.894 50.592s + 2.228s 48. Brian Keselowski Dodge 177.581 50.681s + 2.317s 
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