Earnhardt Nation May Still Be Cheering at Daytona 500

Earnhardt Nation  May Still Be Cheering at Daytona 500

It doesn't take a lot to get "Earnhardt Nation" cheering. After all, they have been doing it every NASCAR weekend since Dale Earnhardt Jr. first started winning in the Busch Series twenty years ago. Now, with Junior embracing his new role as a NBC broadcaster, his loyal race fans may have a new driver to cheer to victory. Alex Bowman crawled behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Sunday and dominated qualifying for the Daytona 500 pole. Obviously Bowman inherited one of the series top rides. Come Sunday, we'll see if "Earnhardt Nation" shows up to support the Nationwide-sponsored Chevrolet as Bowman seeks his first Monster Energy Cup win.

Dale Jr. shocked many race fans when he named Bowman as a fill-in driver while he recovered from a concussion in 2016; but the 24-year old is not a newcomer to racing. He started racing in his hometown of Tucson AZ at age 7 and won nine national championships driving quarter midgets on the southwest ovals. Bowman joins the youth movement at Hendricks Motorsports with new teammates William Byron (age 20) and Chase Elliott (age 22). Enough to make seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmy Johnson (age 42) feel like the old man. That said, no one in the Monster Energy Cup pits ever counts the No. 48 Chevrolet out of contention.

As the third youngest driver to ever win the pole, Sunday's marked the fourth consecutive Daytona 500 pole for Hendrick Motorsports. Teammate Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendricks car on the pole for both 2016-2017 and Jeff Gordon for the 2015 Daytona 500. Outside front row went to 2016 Daytona 500 race winner Denny Hamlin in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The only woman to win a Daytona 500 pole back in 2013, Danica Patrick qualified 28th in what is her final scheduled NASCAR Cup start. Aside from the front row, the remainder of the field will be determined by a pair of 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night known as the Daytona Duels.

Among the drivers to watch when the green flag drops on Thursday night's Duels are the Penske drivers (No. 2 Brad Keselowski, No. 22 Joey Logano, No. 12 Ryan Blaney) along with 2017 Champion (No. 78 Martin Truex Jr.) and the always fast (No. 18 Kyle Bush). This is the eleventh start for Kyle without a win at the Daytona 500. Moreover, watch for Bowman's teammates to run up front along with this year's polesitter.


Photo credit dreamstime.com by Walter Arce.