Alex Bowman scores Daytona 500 pole, Hamlin to start on front row
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Alex Bowman may need to pinch himself after scoring the pole for next Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The 24-year-old Arizona native rocketed around the 2.5-mile speedway at 195.64 mph, sweeping both rounds of single-car runs to earn his second career pole in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Bowman is a part of the next wave of talent to fill premier rides in NASCAR's top series as he replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports.
"I never thought it would have happened after the path my career took. Just so thankful to do this," Bowman said moments after qualifying. "I'm very blessed to be able to call driving a race car my job and to be able to drive what I think is the best car in the business is a dream come true."
Team owner Rick Hendrick credited Earnhardt Jr. for putting Bowman in the car as a substitute driver in 2016. Bowman made 10 starts in relief for Earnhardt Jr. while he recovered from a concussion he suffered in a crash.
"I'd love to take the credit for Alex, but I'm going to have to say Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Hendrick told Fox Sports. "When he got hurt, he said, 'I would love to have Alex in the car.'
"He's so much fun and has so much talent. I couldn't be happier to see that 88 on the pole."
Denny Hamlin, winner of the 2016 Daytona 500, will start alongside Bowman on the front row. Hamlin earned his first career front row start for the Great American Race, coming up just short of his first restrictor plate pole.
The remainder of the starting lineup will be set during the Can-Am Duel qualifying races Thursday night.