Jeff Gordon Wins Pole For His Last Daytona 500

Scott Cook Contributor
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NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, who on Jan. 22 announced that 2015 will be his last season of full-time competition, won the pole position for what he says will be the final Daytona 500 of his career on Sunday.

Gordon will be joined on the front row by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson.

The teammates won the top two positions after outsmarting other drivers in the new “knockout” group-qualifying format.

In previous years, NASCAR had used single-car runs to determine the pole for the Daytona 500. However, recently NASCAR opted to switch to group-qualifying for the “Great American Race,” in an attempt to make qualifying more exciting for fans.

For Daytona, the 49 drivers are split into two groups, each of which goes out for a five-minute qualifying session. The drivers with the 24 fastest lap times of those two groups then advance to a second five-minute session. The 12 fastest from the second session then go to a third and final five-minute session. The pole and line-ups for Thursday’s qualifying races are determined by lap times of drivers in the three group-qualifying sessions.

Gordon and Johnson are two of only a handful of drivers who are pleased with the new format.

An angry Clint Bowyer lashed out at NASCAR for using the group-qualifying format after he and Reed Sorensen got tangled up and wrecked their cars, along with those of Bobby Labonte and J.J. Yeley, during the first group of 25 drivers.

Bowyer told ESPN, “It ain’t [Sorensen’s] fault, it’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out in the middle of this crap for nothing.”

Bowyer continued, “There’s no reason to be putting a show on, trying to make something out of nothing that doesn’t need to be. We put a hell of a show on for the Daytona 500. … These cars are just destroyed for no reason. We’re not even to [the qualifying races]. Don’t forget that. There’s a lot of racing left.”

Even Gordon, who was thrilled with his pole position, sounded a bit skeptical.

“This format is crazy and chaotic,” he said. “[But] it can be extremely rewarding when you have a day like we had.”

Whether drivers love it or hate it, the group-qualifying format did it’s job. It made qualifying a whole lot more exciting and brought a ton of attention to an otherwise boring process.