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Kyle Larson wins Daytona 500 pole; Alex Bowman starts second

From excitement and butterflies to overwhelming nerves and pressure, NASCAR Cup Series drivers share what they remember from their first forays into the Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Hendrick Motorsports swept the Daytona 500 front row, as reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson won the pole and Alex Bowman was second.

Hendrick Motorsports has won seven of the last eight Daytona 500 poles. This is Larson’s first Daytona 500. He had never started better than eight for this race. Bowman qualified for the event’s front row for a record fifth consecutive year.

MORE: Daytona 500 qualifying results

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MORE: Jacques Villeneuve: “The Daytona 500 is one of the three big races on the planet”

Larson qualified at 181.159 mph to become the first reigning Cup champion to win the Daytona 500 pole since Jimmie Johnson did it in 2008. Bowman qualified at 181.046 mph.

“You are really proud of your team to get a pole here because this is the littlest it has to do with us drivers; qualifying at superspeedways,” Larson said. “Just a huge thank you to the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports. Everybody who’s had a part in touching these vehicles; whether it be on the computer, engineering, or just hands on. ... Hopefully this is the beginning of a really good weekend.”

Larson and Bowman were the only cars to set their starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The rest of the field will have their starting position set by Thursday’s qualifying races.

William Byron was third in qualifying at 180.850 mph. Aric Almirola was fourth at 180.527 and was followed by Chase Elliott at 180.314 mph.

Noah Gragson and Jacques Villeneuve, who won the 1995 Indy 500 and the 1997 Formula One championship, secured spots in the Daytona 500. There are six non-chartered cars vying for four spots in the Daytona 500. The two fastest non-chartered cars in qualifying guaranteed themselves a starting spot in the Daytona 500. Gragson, who is running full-time in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports this season, made the race after failing to qualify for last year’s 500.

“Just to make the show is incredible because we’re a small team,” said Villeneuve, who is driving for Team Hezeberg.

The other four non-chartered drivers - Kaz Grala, Greg Biffle, JJ Yeley and Timmy Hill - must race their way in via their qualifying race Thursday.