Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s replacement takes Daytona 500 pole

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't behind the wheel of the No. 88 car anymore, but his replacement is already carrying on the car's storied legacy.

Alex Bowman, Earnhardt's replacement at Hendrick Motorsports, won the pole Sunday for next weekend's Daytona 500, the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series season. It is Bowman's second career pole, the other coming at Phoenix in 2016 when he was subbing for an injured Earnhardt.

"We knew we were going for the pole; that's what we're here to do," Bowman said. "I did everything I could do, but it really comes down to the crew and all the guys back at the shop."

Bowman rotated with Jeff Gordon in 2016 when Earnhardt missed half the season due to concussions, but this will be his first season as a full-time driver at Hendrick.

Joining Bowman on the front row for the Daytona 500 is Denny Hamlin, who had the second-fastest qualifying time. The rest of the order for the 500 will be determined on Thursday in the Can-Am Duels.

Earnhardt was quick to congratulate Bowman on Twitter:

"Awesome! Great job 1/8at3/8AlexBowman88 1/8at3/8TeamHendrick on the 1/8hashtag3/8Daytona500 pole! 1/8at3/8Ives -- Greg and the gang built a fast one."

Some other notes from Sunday's qualifying rounds:

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--Bowman was the most impressive Hendrick driver on Sunday, but the rest weren't far behind him. Jimmie Johnson finished third, William Byron was fifth, and Chase Elliott was 10th. The organization is one of several using the new Chevy Camaro this season, and the first glance on the track has to be encouraging for Chevy fans. This is Hendrick's fourth straight pole at the Daytona 500.

--Speaking of Byron, his fifth-place finish was the best of any rookie driver. Byron, a Charlotte native, is in his first season in the Cup Series after winning the Xfinity Series championship in 2017. Byron was Rookie of the Year in both the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series the past two seasons, and he'll be gunning for a third straight award in 2018.

--For all the talk about Hendrick and their excellence on Sunday, where was reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.? Truex did not advance to the second round of qualifying, and he ultimately came in 26th on Sunday. However, he'll have a chance to improve his standing and start for the 500 at the Duels on Thursday. Last season, Truex started 35th in the Daytona 500 and finished 13th.

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