Following Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson’s victories at the Budweiser Duel races, Hendrick Motorsports holds the top three pole positions heading into the 57th annual Daytona 500 Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
The star-studded team seeks its third straight and historic win in NASCAR’s biggest and most renowned event, with two-time Daytona victor Jeff Gordon leading off with Johnson in the first row, and Earnhardt Jr. at the No. 3 position.
Earnhardt Jr. seeks the first pair of back-to-back Daytona wins since Sterling Martin accomplished the feat back in 1995, and it seems if he doesn’t win, teammates Gordon and Johnson are in excellent position to do so for Hendrick.
Spicing a bit of controversy into the event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Danica Patrick got into a bit of a public dustup with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin after the second qualifying duel Thursday.
Patrick, who became the first woman to qualify for Daytona two years ago, needed to finish 15th or better in order to race Sunday but her car was severely banged up after colliding with Hamlin.
The two then got into a verbal tussle on the field in front of media members.
"He cut across my rear bumper and pulls the back end around," Patrick said to AP. "I get being close. But he's been going to my left rear and it just gets it light. I don't want to have these issues, but if we're going to have these issues then we're going to have to deal with them. We can't be putting ourselves out of our race at someone else's expense and nothing's happened to him."
Thankfully for Patrick her crew was able to get her vehicle repaired for her to reenter the duel in 18th place and two laps remaining.
Patrick would finish 10th with some help from teammate Kurt Busch, and will start in the 10th row beside Swan Racing’s Cole Whitt. Hamlin will start all the way back in 21st row with Casey Mears.
Busch, however, won’t be there to help Patrick out in the main event.
NASCAR suspended Busch indefinitely for actions detrimental to the sport, specifically in a case case of alleged domestic violence.
"The penalty stems from activities last year involving Kurt Busch that resulted in a decision by the Family Court of the State of Delaware to issue an Order of Protection of Abuse against him," NASCAR VP of communications David Higdon announced Friday.
"The penalty is an indefinite suspension. The Appellant (Busch) appealed both penalties. Upon hearing the testimony, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel decided that the Appellant violated the rules set forth in the penalty notice. The Panel therefore decided to uphold the original penalty assessed by NASCAR."
Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith will replace Busch in Daytona, with one victory in 172 starts in his career.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick finished tied for sixth in the first duel behind Gordon, and will start the race in the sixth row next two Daytona rookie and Team Wood Brothers’ Ryan Blaney.
The weather forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and zero precipitation in 75-degree weather by the time drivers rev up their engines. A smooth, dry track could make for very fast race that keeps a number of driver in contention until the final 50 laps.
The starting lineup for all 22 rows is below.
Start Time: The race is scheduled to begin at roughly 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Row 1: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch
Row 3: Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5: Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7: Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8: Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9: Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10: Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11: Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12: Michael McDowell
Row 13: JJ Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14: Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15: Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16: Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17: Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18: Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19: Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20: Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger
Row 21: Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22: Bobby Labonte, Regan Smith