Hendrick Motorsports retains its grip on Daytona 500 qualifying, and that’s virtually as predictable as the sunrise.

Alex Bowman won the pole Wednesday night for the 500 with a speed of 181.686 mph in a Hendrick Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, his teammate, was second at 181.057. They locked in those spots for the start of Sunday’s race.

Third Wednesday night was Hendrick driver William Byron.

And seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a former Hendrick driver, returned to NASCAR with authority, qualifying on speed to earn a spot on the 500 starting grid. Action sports star Travis Pastrana also qualified on speed and, like Johnson, won’t have to worry about finishing positions in Thursday night’s two 150-mile qualifying races. Neither driver had practice time on the DIS oval prior to qualifying.

Pastrana, who will be racing in the 500 for the first time, fulfilling what he has called a dream, and Johnson, who plans to run a partial Cup schedule this year, exchanged congratulations on pit road after it became evident both would be in the 500.

Four drivers — Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill — will try to earn 500 starting spots in Thursday night’s 150-mile qualifying races.

The front row start will be a record sixth in a row for Bowman.

“I’m so proud of the Hendrick engine shop, all the guys,” Bowman told Fox Sports. “I’m just fortunate to qualify some really fast cars. It’s really cool to see Hendrick cars one-two-three.”

Ten drivers advanced to the second round of qualifying Wednesday night. Bowman was the fastest of that group in the first round. He was followed by Chase Briscoe, Larson, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Byron, Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Harrison Burton.

Almirola was the fastest Ford in the final round at fourth.

“Doug Yates did a great job bringing a lot of horsepower, and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing did a great job of bringing speed,” Almirola said. “It feels good to show up down here with a fast race car, and now we’ve just got to go execute the rest of the week.”

Busch’s time in the final round was disallowed because he dropped below the yellow line on the backstretch during this lap.

The last 500 pole winner to also win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000. None of the past eight pole winners finished better than 14th in the race.

Hendrick Motorsports has been 500 qualifying king for most of recent history. Hendrick leads all teams with 16 500 poles and has won eight of the past nine. Next on that list is Richard Childress Racing, with six.

Daly, an IndyCar regular, failed to make a qualifying lap Wednesday night because his car had oil line  issues.


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