DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— Winning the pole position for the Daytona 500 is a special time for a driver and his team. Unlike any other week, the pole sitter for the “Great American Race” holds that position for one week.

2017 is not different, but the Can-Am Duel at Daytona is now worth 10 championship points for the driver who wins the race.

In recent history, the Daytona 500 pole winner would race in the duels “conservatively” in an effort to keep that prestigious starting position and not damage the car.

This year drivers can come out of Daytona with up to 70 championship points to start off their season in effort to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For crew chief, Alan Gufstason, his philosophy with this new format hasn’t changed:

“I’ve always had the philosophy to race hard during the Duels.  I think it's the best way to go about it.  I think you have to continue, like I said, to develop your car and research your setup and work on improving your car.”

Gufstason mentions that he has already begun strategizing how to maximize the opportunity presented:

“Now that it pays points, you're going to have to look at it a little bit differently and focus on trying to win it.  That would be great, but if not, you want to come out of there with some points.”

The chance to save your car from potential damage in a crash diving out of the pack and running out is over because drivers and crew chiefs want to maximize those points.

Chase Elliott scored the pole position in the 59th Daytona 500 for the second year in a row. Teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr, will start alongside Elliott leading the field to the green. This is Alan Gufstason’s third straight Daytona 500 pole as crew chief of the No. 24. Elliott had a speed of 192.872 mph. Earnhardt had a speed of 192.864 mph.

“Yeah, this is really cool. I’m just happy for our NAPA team and it’s great to have Napa on board this weekend; and a big thanks to the Hendrick engine shop and Chevrolet. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season. This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks,” said Elliott

“It feels good. I think the guys are a little bit disappointed. They really wanted to get the pole. I’m disappointed too, but am absolutely thrilled to have an all-Hendrick Motorsports front row. And we’ll work on the balance practice a lot this week and make sure it’s a good handling car for the race. But, it’s a good way to start the week,” said Earnhardt Jr.

In the first round of qualifying, Elliott was fastest at 192.308 mph. Earnhardt Jr. was second fastest at 192.267 mph, Brad Keselowski was third fastest at 192.226 mph, Martin Truex Jr. was fourth fastest at 192.201 mph, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five at 192.143 mph.

In the second round of qualifying, Keselowski was third fastest at 192.691 mph, Clint Bowyer was fourth fastest at 192.571 mph, and Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five at 192.308 mph.

Only four “open” cars will make the Daytona 500.  Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan will make the Daytona 500 based not their times in qualifying.  Timmy Hill, Corey LaJoie, DJ Kennington, and Reed Sorenson must race their way into the field in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel.

Drivers who qualified in odd positions will race in the first duel, while drivers who qualified in even positions will be in the second duel scheduled for Thursday.

The Can-Am Duels will be broadcasted at 7:00 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1 and Motor Racing Network on Thursday, February 23rd.

The past few seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Kasey Kahne, since he moved to Hendrick Motorsports in 2013, have not been the best. Kahne is considered the “underperforming” driver of the organization.

Towards the end of the 2016 season, things began to look up for Kahne. He believes that the performance at the end brought high optimism going into the 2017 season. “I think it is more optimism and just feeling good about where we went last year.”

“we know where we made those gains as a company and as a team because we made them in both areas and we will just get better from there.”

With those gains, the team for Kahne feels “good about it and is excited to get the season started.” However, Kahne feels that optimism comes from the way the season ended with Jimmie Johnson winning the championship and Chase Elliott winning the Rookie of the Year as well as the gains the team made in the last 12 races of 2016. “We know where we made those gains as a company and as a team because we made them in both areas and we will just get better from there.”

When it comes to the offseason, many believe that drivers go off and leave the team with the work, but that is not the case when it comes to the No. 5 team. “Since Monday after Homestead I have been with Keith (Rodden, crew chief), I’ve been with our engineers and all of us as a team, from the pit crew side to the road guys, the guys building the cars, we have been a team and we have been working to progress in those same areas that we made the gains in.  We have had a couple of months to do that, so I feel like that is a lot of hard work,” said Kahne. “Everybody is working hard, but for us we are going in the right direction and it is going to show this year and I’m looking forward to that.”

For Kahne, winning is the goal, but running consistently in the top-10 gives them “fair share of shots to win, whether it’s a stage or the final stage; I’m looking forward to that.” Kahne is looking forward to having faster cars and being a better driver behind the wheel.

MARTINSVILLE, Va --  After a debacle on the final caution of the race, Jimmie Johnson was able to punch his ticket into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he will win the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. This will be his ninth career win at Martinsville, and his fourth win of 2016. Johnson goes into Homestead vying for his seventh championship.

 

“I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven (championships) but now I can’t! We’re locked in. I’m just honored to be in this position. I wouldn’t be in this position without the belief of Lowe’s and all their employees had in me back when I was running 10th or 15th in the Busch Series. Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon… all of the people who have believed in me to get this point. It’s crazy that we have a shot at seven now. We couldn’t do it without our partners at Chevrolet, Valvoline and the list goes on and on. Thanks to them all very much,” said Johnson in his post-race celebration.

 

The first half of the race started with Martin Truex Jr. leading the field to green. Truex was able to get a good jump on the start and lead the opening laps of the race. The caution flew on lap 20 for a spin by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was already in a backup car. However, Martin Truex Jr. pitted losing the lead giving it to Joey Logano. On the restart, Truex was making gains to the front of the field. Truex was able to prove that having new tires was the way to go. NASCAR black-flagged David Ragan, and threw out the caution for fluid being dropped by the 23. Logano attempted to get to the bottom of the racetrack on the restart, but was unable to and continued to drop. Kyle Larson was able to get to the bumper of Truex and take the lead away, but was unable to gold onto the position. After leading for awhile, Kyle Busch was able to pass Truex to gain the lead, but held onto the lead for a couple laps. As the race went green, teams were becoming more conservative with their equipment. The caution flew for debris as teams were getting prepared for green flag pit stops. On the restart, Truex Jr. was able to gain the point, but let Matt Kenseth take the lead to gain a bonus point. Kenseth was able to take the lead back from Truex Jr at Lap 180. As Kenseth remained in the lead a battle for sixth between Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin ensued as Hamlin continued to march after his pit road speeding penalty, and gained the position as they bumped and banged. Johnson suffered a tire rub from the contact, but the caution flew for a torn banner on the backstretch. On the restart, Kenseth was the control car as Logano tried to get to the inside of the track and was able to find his way back to the eighth position. As the race approached the halfway point, the sun began to peak from behind the clouds. At the halfway point, Kenseth was the leader, Hamlin was second, Ky. Busch was third, Gordon was fourth, and Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five as the race entered into the second half.

 

The second half of the race continued a green flag run. Toyota continued to show their dominance as Kenseth, Ky. Busch, and Hamlin lead the field. As Kenseth hits strong lapped traffic, Hamlin was able to close in on Kenseth, but couldn’t gain the lead. Hamlin was being help up by Casey Mears. As pit stops were coming up, Kenseth was reporting that the left rear tire was going  down, but seemed to recover. As green flag stops were underway, the caution flew for contact with the wall by Carl Edwards. As the field was under caution, Johnson ran out of fuel on the backstretch. The caution period was long due to mass confusion by NASCAR and drivers about where they were starting. Hamlin had the race lead as the race restarted. After a couple laps battling for the lead, Johnson passed Hamlin to gain the lead. Johnson was able to build a lead over the Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Hamlin, Kenseth, and Ky. Busch as the race winded down. As the race went green, Keselowski was on the move to the front in an effort to pounce on Johnson for the race win. However, time ran out for Keselowski as Johnson sat sail to victory.

 

The race experienced five cautions for 54 laps. The average speed of the race was 78.537 mph. The margin of victory was 1.291 seconds. There were 15 lead changes among nine different drivers. Ky. Busch led the most laps at 176, Truex Jr. led 147 laps, Johnson was able to lead 92 laps, Hamlin led 48 laps, Logano led 21 laps, Larson led six laps, Allmendinger led five laps, Ky. Busch led three laps, and Regan Smith led two laps. 38 drivers were running at the end of the race. Only 10 drivers were on the lead lap.

 

With the win by Johnson, he is an automatic lock as one of the four championship contenders at Homestead. The four drivers who are out as of right now include Logano who is four points away from the cutoff line, Harvick who is 16 points behind the cutoff, Ku. Busch who is 18 points behind the cutoff, and Edwards who is 32 points behind the cutoff.

 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500 for the second race of the “Round of Eight” in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Coverage from Texas will begin on Friday with first practice beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.

MARTINSVILLE, VA -- When it was announced that Jeff Gordon would be coming out of retirement to fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms.  it was questioned about whether it would effect Gordon’s NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility.

 

NASCAR confirmed to Speedway Digest on Friday that Gordon’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame has not been effected through his fill-in role in 2016. 

 

Gordon will be eligible to be nominated in 2018. If he is a first ballot nominee, he will be inducted in 2019.

 

Gordon has filled in eight races. Gordon’s best finish was 10th at Dover International Speedway. His best start was 11th at Bristol and Richmond.

 

NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility is drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and been retired three years are eligible for nomination, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years and have reached their 55th birthday before December 31 of the year prior to the nominating year are immediately eligible, or if a computer has competed 30 or more years in NASCAR competition by December 31 of the year prior to the nominating year is eligible.

 

Over his career, Gordon has 93 wins, 805 starts, 325 top-five’s, 476 top-10’s, and 81 poles over his 25 year career. Gordon is currently a member of the NASCAR on FOX team.