Stenhouse wins Daytona 500 pole in debut with new team

Kurt Busch, left, leads a pack of cars on pit road as they wait to go out on the track during a NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Kurt Busch, left, leads a pack of cars on pit road as they wait to go out on the track during a NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. needed just two days to get his new team to the top.

Stenhouse won the pole Sunday for the season-opening Daytona 500 next weekend, putting JTG-Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR spotlight for a week. Stenhouse's third pole in 257 Cup Series starts and first at Daytona International Speedway came on his second day in the new Chevrolet Camaro.

His first day behind the wheel came during practice Saturday.

“It's the best driving Camaro I've ever driven,” Stenhouse quipped.

Stenhouse turned a fast lap at 194.582 mph to claim the pole, edging Alex Bowman for the top spot. Bowman reached 194.363 mph around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway to lock down a front-row spot for the third consecutive year. Bowman finished 17th and 11th, respectively, in the last two openers.

“As a race car driver, there's not much you can do to make them go faster,” Bowman said. “But you can sure screw them up, so at least I didn't do that.”

Only the top two spots were determined in single-car qualifying. The starting order for the rest of the 40-car field will be set by a pair of qualifying races Thursday at Daytona.

Even so, the Hendrick Motorsports entries clearly have speed: Stenhouse's engines are built by Hendrick, and Hendrick drivers Bowman, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson were second through fourth on the speed chart.