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Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon Take Front Row; Bill Elliott In

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For the second consecutive season, two of Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolets will lead the field to the green flag in the Daytona 500.

Hendrick teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon claimed the top two starting positions for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. It is Earnhardt’s first career Daytona 500 pole and his third front row start, while Gordon had not qualified on the front row since 2006.

Trevor Bayne, driving for the legendary Wood Brothers, was third quickest, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. They, along with the rest of the field, will determine their starting positions Thursday in one of the two 150-mile Gatorade Duel qualifying races.

Four drivers guaranteed themselves a spot in Sunday’s race. Dawsonville’s Bill Elliott led the “go-or-go-home” contingent, teams and drivers that are not locked into the Daytona 500 by being among the top-35 in 2010 car owner points. His James Finch-owned Chevrolet timed in 17th quickest. Also locking themselves in were Wisconsin’s Travis Kvapil and veteran Joe Nemechek, who’s self-owned Camry was the fastest of all Toyota drivers, including the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing outfit.

Two-time Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte, by virtue of the past-champion’s provisional, is also guaranteed a spot in the field in Frank Stoddard’s #32 Ford.

Among those who will have to race their way into the 500 during Thursday’s qualifiers are two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, defending Camping World Truck Series champion Todd Bodine, and 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.