Dale Earnhardt Jr won the pole for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The race will be his last at Daytona as a full time driver for the Number 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. It’s Earnhardt’s second career Daytona pole and the 14th pole of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. He hasn’t won a pole since September 2013 at Dover.
Earnhardt’s lap of 190.973 mph bumped his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott to the second starting position. “I’m happy for those guys obviously, but we’d love to outrun ’em there,” Elliott said after Earnhardt’s pole win. “It’s so hard to tell when you’re out there making your lap how it’s going to be or if you did anything any better”
“I have to give Hendrick Motorsports a lot of credit, particularly for me personally it has been the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) bunch. We’ve been kind of pushing each other over the last several years in qualifying at Talladega and Daytona. It’s been a healthy competition,” Earnhardt added.
“I don’t do anything in qualifying but just hold the wheel and just make sure I don’t hit the apron,” Earnhardt told NBCSN after his lap. “Otherwise, the car does everything. A lot of credit to the power, the body man back at the shop. All that stuff’s so critical and they did a good job today.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 30, 2017
Defending race winner Brad Keselowski, fellow Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne, and Kevin Harvick, last week’s race winner at Sonoma, round out the top five starting positions.
Junior Announces His Retirement From Full Time NASCAR Racing
Earnhardt missed 18 races in 2016 after suffering a concussion in a wreck at Michigan in June. After months of rehab he returned to Daytona in February but in April announced plans to retire from full time racing at the end of the 2017 season.
Earnhardt clarified in a press conference last Sunday that although he won’t be racing full time he doesn’t plan to give up racing altogether anytime soon. He will race at least two and up to six Xfinity Series races in his own Number 88 JR Motorsports Chevy in 2018, the Associated Press reported.
Since his Coke Zero 400 pole wins him an automatic spot in the exhibition Clash at Daytona Race it’s not unreasonable to think Earnhardt will end up racing the Daytona 500 in 2018. He remained open but non-committal about February saying,”I’ll talk to my boss and see what he has in the shed.”
In addition to his four Daytona Cup Series wins, Junior also has six Xfinity Series wins, five duel wins and two wins in the pre-season Clash. In all Earnhardt has 17 victories at Daytona events.
Although Daytona would be special to Junior for his own accomplishments at the track alone, he will also always remember it as the place where his father Dale Earnhardt, Sr lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Daytona International Speedway has pulled out all the stops to salute Junior on his last race as a full time driver race at the 2.5 mile track where he’s seen so many successes in his NASCAR career. On Friday Track president Chip Wile presented Earnhardt with, among them an image of the car a painting depicting three of his most memorable wins including the Number 8 he drove to victory in the 2001 summer race, just five months after Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at the track.
Earnhardt Needs a Win To Make The Playoffs
Earnhardt has not won a race yet in 2017. He currently sits at number 22 in the Monster Energy Cup Series Standings and needs a win to make the playoffs and run for what would be his first and likely only Cup Championship.
“We are running out of time, and I am aware of that,” Junior said after qualifying Friday. “This is probably our best shot to win, but we can win at other racetracks. We’ve got that ability to do that. It’s been a very frustrating, tough year statistically, but what I see in my team gives me confidence.”
Of course Earnhardt is the fan favorite to win and his fellow drivers also recognize that he will be the car to beat tonight.
Chase Elliott said of his teammate’s chances of winning, “I wouldn’t say [he has] a chip on his shoulder, but I do think he has been very, very determined this weekend on making sure his car is driving exactly like he wants it,” He doesn’t want it good. He doesn’t want it great. He wants it perfect. He’s made that very apparent in our post-practice meetings. He’s very determined to run well here.”
Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch said of Earnhardt, “I guarantee he’s going to be elbows up, sleeves up, and he will be the car to beat this weekend,” Kurt Busch said.
The Coke Zero 400 will air at 7:00 PM EST on NBC.
Starting Order for the Coke Zero 400 At Daytona International Speedway
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Chase Elliott
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. Joey Logano
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Ryan Blaney
10. Danica Patrick
11. Clint Bowyer
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Matt Kenseth
14. Trevor Bayne
15. Kurt Busch
16. Kyle Busch
17. Erik Jones
18. Denny Hamlin
19. Austin Dillon
20. Daniel Suarez
21. Kyle Larson
22. Ryan Newman
23. Michael McDowell
24. Paul Menard
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Landon Cassill
27. AJ Allmendinger
28. Matt DiBenedetto
29. Chris Buescher
30. David Ragan
31. Darrell Wallace
32. Brendan Gaughan
33. Elliott Sadler
34. Ty Dillon
35. Cole Whitt
36. Corey LaJoie
37. Reed Sorenson
38. Ryan Sieg
39. Jeffrey Earnhardt
40. DJ Kennington