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Alex Bowman is off to a hot start in the lead-up to the 2018 NASCAR season after being tasked with following in the footsteps of Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's 15-time Most Popular Driver and a seven-time Daytona pole victor.

Kyle Busch, also a Toyota driver, won five races, while Kyle Larson, a Chevrolet driver, won four races.

Her final race will be with the same vehicle number she started her NASCAR career in - the No. 7 Chevrolet, which she'll drive for Premium Motorsports - back in 2010 in the XFINITY Series, with the same crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., guiding her through those 500 miles.

The pole was the second of Bowman's career and comes a year after Earnhardt won the pole for the 500 in his final season before retirement.

Earnhardt retired a year ago after missing half of the 2016 season, though he will be at the track serving as grand marshal for the season-opening race.

Brad Keselowski led a 1-2 Team Penske sweep Sunday in the exhibition The Clash at Daytona race that marks the opening of Speedweeks.

Denny Hamlin had the second-fastest speed at 195.092 miles per hour in a Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing. The duo were the only two drivers to crack the 195 miles per hour mark in the qualifying session.

"It was really just to do Daytona and Indy and The Clash wasn't a priority", she said.

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Seeing Byron's potential, team owner Rick Hendrick signed him in 2016 to have him drive one of the Xfinity cars he co-owns with Earnhardt and Earnhardt's sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

Hendrick put Chevrolet on the pole for the sixth straight year. It very well could have an impact on the race as nearly everyone in the field is now accustomed to running the race without many handling issues. "From a performance standpoint, he's someone who can look after me, but also from a comfort standpoint - I don't have to try to win the Daytona 500 with somebody I never met before", she said.

Patrick, 35, got the one-off gig at Daytona thanks to Premium Motorsports, which owns a NASCAR charter that guarantees her a spot in the February 18 restrictor-plate scrum.

"Then you turn around three months later and you're at the biggest race of the year".

"Just a little nerve-wracking", he said.

"It's still a little surreal". The machine says where you are, and everybody has got to be there. We've already changed some things that we do here with lineups, how we roll the cars on and how we stage the cars, where we stage the crew members.

Running her final Cup race, Danica Patrick was 16th fastest.

Eventually Byron wore his parents down - in part because he wrote a six-page paper detailing the best approach to get started in racing - and they bought him a Legends auto, a small, full-bodied vehicle that is seen as a basic entry point into motor sports.


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