Chase Elliott hasn't even raced as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, but the 20-year-old has already picked up a major feather in his cap. Elliott finished with the best time in the second round of qualifying Sunday to win the pole for the 2016 Daytona 500.
According to Xfinity Racing, he's the youngest pole-sitter in the race's illustrious history. You wouldn't have guessed as he exited his car that he made history; he looked more like an experienced veteran for whom Sunday was merely another day, as Fox Sports NASCAR captured:
Elliott's time of 45.845 seconds was 0.065 seconds ahead of second-place Matt Kenseth. After 43 drivers had a shot in Round 1, the 12 fastest drivers advanced to the second qualifying round, the results of which you can see below. The full results are available at FoxSports.com:
|Pos.||Driver||Best Time (sec.)|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||45.993|
|5||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||46.126|
The 10th driver to qualify during the round, Elliott set the pace and supplanted Kyle Busch atop the leaderboard. Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each had a chance to best his mark, but neither was able to do so:
Earnhardt congratulated Elliott following the qualifying rounds:
Well damn. We had a shot at the pole but congrats to @chaseelliott and the 24 gang. Focus now turns to getting a trophy in 150 on Thursday.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 14, 2016
This is the first step in the qualifying process for this year's Daytona 500. Only two of the 40 starting spots are confirmed. Elliott will sit on the pole for the race, while Kenseth will be positioned alongside him on the outside of Row 1.
The remaining 38 spots will be decided in Thursday's Can-Am Duels, which begin at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET.
Nobody will be looking forward to the duel races more than Martin Truex Jr. and his crew. Truex was the only driver not to run a qualifying lap. According to Fox Sports, race officials flagged an issue on the roof of the No. 78 car:
ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass reported NASCAR has yet to make any ruling or hand out any possible punishments regarding the situation.
While a number of drivers will be disappointed about failing to qualify in one of the top two spots Sunday, they can take solace in knowing Dale Jarrett is the last pole winner to capture the checkered flag at the Daytona 500, topping the leaderboard in 2000.
Since Jarrett's victory, the Daytona 500 winner's average starting position has been 14.7. Kevin Harvick won in 2007 despite starting 34th, while Kenseth was nearly all the way at the end of the field in 39th when he began what would be a winning performance at the 2009 Daytona 500.
Elliott has big shoes to fill as he replaces Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car. Gordon won the Daytona 500 on three occasions. One of his three wins (1999) came from the pole, a feat Elliott will hope to repeat.
Whether or not Elliott is victorious next week, it's clear he has a bright future ahead. Sunday's achievement should be the first of many accolades to come for him on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Elliott deflected credit for his success after the race.
"I think the big thing is just the team and the Daytona 500 qualifying is about the team guys and the effort they put into these cars," he said after winning the pole, per Yahoo Sports' Nick Bromberg. "It's nothing special I did, it's really what kind of work they did this offseason to make it happen. Jeff [Gordon] knows all about that. This is very special and a great way to start the season."
Elliott also knows he can't afford to bask in Sunday's glory before shifting his focus back to the Daytona 500.
"This is a big day, but at the same time, this is a long week," he said, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today. "This is a step in the right direction, but this is one lap versus 500 miles on Sunday."
Truex will also want to move on quickly but for a different reason. He spoke about the disappointment of seeing all of the work he and his crew put into competing Sunday go to waste.
"Whatever, we'll roll on and see what they decide to do. It's too bad," Truex said, per Jim Utter of Motorsport.com. "I thought we had a really good car. It would have been nice to see where we could have run at least. Either way, we'll move on and hopefully have a good rest of Speedweeks."