Hendrick’s Alex Bowman wins Daytona 500 pole; teammate Kyle Larson also on front row

AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Alex Bowman's crew secures the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet after Daytona 500 pole position qualifying Wednesday night in Daytona Beach, Fla.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Bowman admired yet another Daytona 500 pole position trophy, his latest prize for mastering Daytona International Speedway over one fast lap ahead of NASCAR's marquee event.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver still wants to add to his Daytona collection. He's missing the Harley J. Earl Trophy that goes to the winner of the actual race.

"It may not be the big one," Bowman said of Wednesday's prize. "But it's not a bad one to have."

Bowman and Kyle Larson turned Daytona 500 pole position qualifying into another Hendrick Motorsports romp.

Bowman posted the top speed in his No. 48 Chevrolet on the 2.5-mile tri-oval and won the pole for the race for the third time, having done so first in 2018 and again in 2021. The 29-year-old will be joined by teammate Larson in the No. 5 Chevy on the front row Sunday for the Cup Series season opener.

The Hendrick dominance is a recurring theme at this superspeedway.

"They've got something figured out, for sure," Larson said. "There's obviously tricks they've learned along the way that still apply to these cars."

Bowman, who missed five races late last season because of a concussion, is on the Daytona 500 front row for the sixth straight time, and the organization produced a pole winner for the eighth time in nine years.

"There's a ton of effort that goes into trying to qualify well here," said Bowman, who earlier Wednesday received a three-year extension that will keep him with Rick Hendrick's organization through the 2026 season.

Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson made a triumphant return to NASCAR on Wednesday night and qualified for the Daytona 500, a tremendous start for the record-tying seven-time Cup Series champion as he heads into his first race on the circuit since 2020.

The 47-year-old Johnson returned from a two-year dalliance in IndyCar for an ownership stake in Legacy Motor Club — and he quickly added to his own legacy, joining the 40-driver field Wednesday night in his No. 84 Chevrolet.

Yes, a reverse of the No. 48 he ran when he won two Daytona 500s while driving for Hendrick.

"I think I really have a shot to win," Johnson said before hitting the track. "If I survive and get through the first two stages, there's really a shot that I have to win this race."

Johnson will be joined Sunday by another 40-something part-timer in former X Games thrill-seeker Travis Pastrana. Pastrana said racing in the Daytona 500 was one of his last motorsports goals, and this was his last, best shot to get there. He landed a ride for Daytona in the No. 67 Toyota as a third entry for 23XI Racing, the team owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner.

With 36 drivers already locked into the 40-car field based on NASCAR's charter system, Johnson and Pastrana were among six others competing for the final four starting spots.

Johnson and Pastrana embraced on pit row after they locked themselves into the race. They can rest easy for a night.

So can Bowman and Larson. Bowman, who has a new crew chief in Blake Harris this season, turned a top speed of 181.686 mph, while Larson hit 181.057.

"Now it's time to finish," Bowman said. "Make it to the end."

The final two open spots and the starting order will be settled in Thursday night's duel qualifying races. Conor Daly, Austin Hill, Chandler Smith and Zane Smith will vie for the two open spots.

Because NASCAR did not have practice at the superspeedway before Wednesday, teams did not have any time to hit the track and work out kinks in their cars.

Still, it felt like old times for Johnson.

He had seemingly walked away from NASCAR after the 2020 season, but he never scored a podium finish over 29 starts in two IndyCar seasons. So it was back to NASCAR, only this time with a say in how to run the operation. He bought into the ownership group of what was Petty GMS Racing and quickly rebranded it to Legacy M.C.

Pastrana was a bigger long shot to make Daytona. He has won championships in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, rally racing and, most recently, offshore powerboat racing. He made a brief run at NASCAR a decade ago and raced a full 2013 schedule on the second-tier Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing.

"I got chewed up and spit out by these guys really fast," Pastrana said. "At the end of the day, it's because they're the best drivers, I believe, in the entire world."

Pastrana drove the No. 67 Toyota like a seasoned veteran and will join 23XI drivers Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace in the field.

"It's interesting, a lot of the guys that follow NASCAR, just the fans, they know me as a TV personality or a stunt man," Pastrana said. "Really, in my heart, I've been a racer."