|Earnhardt Jr captured his first ever restrictor plate pole|
In Sunday's qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway, Earnhardt edged Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the top starting spot in next Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.
Turning a lap in 48.364 seconds (186.089 mph), Earnhardt claimed the 10th Coors Light pole award of his career and his first at a restrictor-plate superspeedway. He'll try to win NASCAR's most prestigious race for the second time in the 400th start of his Cup career.
What Earnhardt -- and Gordon, for that matter -- won't have to worry about is racing for position in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Under the unique qualify procedure for the Daytona 500, the two fastest drivers in time trials are locked into the front row.
The rest of the field for the 53rd running of the Great American Race won't be set until the Duels are completed.
"The main thing [the pole] does for me is take the pressure off Thursday's race," said Earnhardt, who will start from the top spot in the first qualifying race. "I can go out and have fun and not worry about where I finish or getting a good starting spot for the Daytona 500."
Gaining a slight edge through Turn 1, Earnhardt narrowly beat Gordon (48.396 seconds, 185.966 mph) for the top spot on the grid.
It was the third Daytona 500 front-row sweep for Hendrick Motorsports, which placed Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip first and second in 1989. Mark Martin won the pole for last year's 500, with Earnhardt starting on the outside of the front row.
Daytona 500 Qualifying Results
2011 Gatorade Duel Starting Lineups