DAYTONA BEACH — Alex Bowman continued his dominance during Daytona 500 qualifying, winning his third pole to extend his record of consecutive appearances on the front row to six.
The next step is the big one.
Bowman looks to convert his qualifying success into a winning run Sunday during NASCAR’s showcase event.
“That’s the trick,” he said. “We obviously have not been able to do that the past five years.”
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Bowman has not come close, failing to even crack the top-10.
“Now it’s time to finish,” he said. “It’s such a hard race. We’ve crashed early, we’ve crashed in the middle and we’ve crashed late. Obviously I don’t have the answer to that. But, man, it’s been tough.
“We want to finish this race, and finish it well.”
Once again, Bowman has the car to spend Sunday near the front of pack, the latest example of the incredible consistency of Rick Hendrick’s drivers during Daytona 500 qualifying.
Wednesday marked the fourth time in five years Hendrick Motorsports has swept the front row and record 16th pole for the legendary owner.
“Daytona 500 qualifying means a lot to him,” said Bowman, signed a three-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s something he’s very prideful of. Our record speaks for itself on that.
“We’ve talked about it quite a few times this off-season, it’s been a long time since Hendrick Motorsports won the Daytona 500. We got to make that change on Sunday.”
Just seven drivers have won nine Daytona 500s from the pole, the last being Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2014 win was the last by Hendrick Motorsports and the eighth for the owner.
Two of those wins were by Jimmie Johnson, in 2006 and 2013.
The 47-year-old, seven-time Cup Series champion is a long shot, but he qualified for his 20th Daytona 500 after spending the past two years racing Indy Cars.
“It is a huge relief,” Johnson said. “It was stressful.”
Driving the No. 84 car for Legacy Motor Club, Johnson posted the top qualifying time of the unchartered cars to secure a place in the 40-car field. Johnson bought into the ownership group of Legacy, the rebranded team formerly known as Petty GMS.
“I have a different purpose in this experience,” he said. “Ultimately I want what’s best for this race team. I’m trying to select races and tracks that really help our organization grow.”
Meanwhile, Travis Pastrana grabbed the other spot for unchartered cars. Best known for his X-games success and extreme sports pursuits, Pastrana sees the Daytona 500 as a bucket-list item.
He raced in the K&N Pro Series and NASCAR’s Trucks and Xfinity series, but never reached the Cup Series.
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Driving the No. 67 Toyota part-time for 23XI, owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, Pastrana called the opportunity “a dream come true.”
Bowman on the front row had an air of inevitability.
Bowman, who also won the 2021 and 2018 poles, posted a time of 49.536 seconds on the 2½ mile oval Wednesday night and a speed of 181.686 mph in his No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He beat teammate Kyle Larson, last year’s pole-sitter who posted a time of 49.708 seconds and speed of 181.057 to edge Bowman by .113.
“They got something figured out,” Larson said. “There’s tricks they’ve learned that apply this car. Rick gets excited about that, but he’d be more excited if one of the four of us makes it to Victory Lane.”
The times were sluggish by modern standards as the “Next Gen” car provers to be faster in a pack than running solo. Larson’s top-end speed in 2022 was the slowest since Curtis Turner qualified with a speed of 180.381 in 1967.
In a repeat of 2022, Hendrick driver and 2019 pole-sitter William Byron finished third but will have to earn his specific starting spot in Thursday’s Duels. Tampa’s Aric Almirola finished fourth driving the No. 10 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.