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article imageNASCAR: Rookie Elliott to lead the field at Daytona 500

By John Duarte     Feb 15, 2016 in Sports
Daytona Beach - Chase Elliott enters the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series under the microscope and he's off to a great start after qualifying in the pole position for the series opening race, the Daytona 500.
The eyes of NASCAR nation will be on the 20-year-old rookie, who stepped into the seat vacated by the retirement of Jeff Gordon at the end of last season. Oddly enough, Elliott drove the same chassis in which Gordon took the pole position for the same race a year ago.
Elliott's blistering time around the 2.5-mile track made him the youngest driver to start at the front of the field. Two months after celebrating his 20th birthday, Elliot accomplishes the mark previously held by Austin Dillon, who was almost 24 when he captured the Daytona 500 pole two years ago.
Elliott said he is just getting used to the fact he replaced Gordon in the No. 24 car at Hendrick Motorsports and never dreamed he would be top qualifier for the Daytona 500 in his first attempt
“I don't know that this opportunity (to drive Gordon's old car) has sunk yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500,” said Elliott. “This is a very, very cool day.”
Elliot comes to Sprint Cup with strong racing pedigree. He is the son of legendary NASCAR driver Bill Elliott, who was champion in the organization's top-level series in 1988 when it was known as Winston Cup. Bill Elliott was inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year.
Looking back at the day, Elliott said there were some nerves. He thought about how he was following Gordon and how he didn't want to “mess anything up” having been afforded the opportunity to drive for one of NASCAR's top teams. He also said that, with the qualifying out of the way, “this is going to be a long week” leading into the Great American Race on Feb. 21.
“I just wanted to try to do my job. I just didn't want to mess up, try to hit my marks, move forward from there,” he said. “This is going to be a long week. We need to be smart about that and try to have this car for next Sunday.”
If Elliott wins the Daytona 500, he would become the youngest winner of the race.
Elliot lapped the track in 45.845 seconds to post a qualifying speed of 196.314 miles per hour to barely edge out Matt Kenseth, whose top speed was 196.036 miles per hour, taking just 0.065 seconds longer than Elliott to complete the 2.5-mile lap.
Elliott and Kenseth are the only two drivers with starting positions locked in for the Daytona 500. The rest of the field will be decided on Thursday night with a pair of 150-mile events collectively known as the Can-Am Duel qualifying races.
Kenseth, who had never qualified for the race on the front row, said it “takes off some of the pressure for later in the week.” He couldn't praise his team enough for the effort put in to prepare his car.
“Qualifying here is truly a team effort. From the aero guys to everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) making the power, Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the group for massaging that thing,” he said. “They did a great job.”
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch, could only post the fourth-best time on the day. He will resume his qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Thursday, in the Can-Am Duel races.
The 58th running of the Great American Race kicks off the 2016 Sprint Cup Series schedule on Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway, in Daytona Beach, Florida.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, daytona international speedway, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth
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