Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Grabs Pole, Jeff Gordon Alongside Him

Hank EptonCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 13:  Front Row award winner Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, and Pole award winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, pose in victory lane after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole on Sunday for this week's Daytona 500 with a lap of 48.36 seconds (186.089 mph) in his National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet.

Jeff Gordon will start on the outside of row one in his Drive to End Hunger Chevy with a speed of 185.966 mph.

The Earnhardt-Gordon front row represents a sweep for Hendrick Motorsports.

For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the pole represents a grand start to 2011 after a disappointing 2010 campaign that saw his winless streak extended to 93 races.

It's Earnhardt's first pole since March 2010 at Atlanta.

In the offseason, three of the four drivers at HMS were moved to different teams in an attempt to improve the performance of all the teams.

For 2011, Earnhardt has been paired with Steve Letarte, who spent last season working with Jeff Gordon.

Gordon is now working with Alan Gustafson, who is Mark Martin’s former crew chief.

Martin is now paired with Lance McGrew, who spent the 2010 season with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It is Earnhardt’s first Daytona 500 pole win, however he started the race first in 2004 after Greg Biffle’s engine change forced him to the back.

The Daytona 500 has been won from the pole nine times.

Dale Jarrett most recently pulled it off in 2000.

The remainder of the field will be set Thursday during the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, two 150 mile qualifying races featuring Sunday's top two qualifiers as the pole sitters.

In each of the races, the drivers in the top 35 plus the top two cars entered into each race outside the top 35 in points will secure their starting spots.

Odd numbered teams ranked in the top-35 from 2010 points will be in race one (first place in points, third, fifth, and so on), evens in race two (second place in points, fourth, sixth and so on).

Along with the cars outside the top-35 in points, they will determine their starting position in the Duel from Sunday's qualifying.

The pole sitter (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and outside pole winner (Jeff Gordon) for the Daytona 500 will start Gatorade Duels one (Earnhardt) and two (Gordon) on the pole respectively regardless of where they placed in 2010 points.

In each race, the finishing positions of those in the top-35 in points and the top two finishers outside the top-35 in 2010 points will determine their starting positions for the Daytona 500.

The first race will set the inside row, the second will determine the outside.

That will set 39 of the 43 spots in the field.

The next three Daytona 500 starting spots will go to three drivers not locked in via their 2010 points position who posted the fastest times in Sunday's qualifying and did not finish among the top two so called go-or-go-home cars in their 150 mile race.

The 43rd and final spot will go to the most recent past Sprint Cup champion not qualified on speed or through the Thursday races.

Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott are the only two entries eligible for the past champions provisional, with Labonte having the upper hand by virtue of being the more recent champion.

If both Labonte and Elliott finish among the top two non-top-35 cars in their respective races, NASCAR returns to Sunday's speed chart and takes the next fastest car not already qualified into the Daytona 500.