By Lewis Franck
DAYTONA Beach, Florida (Reuters) - Jeff Gordon will try to make his final Daytona 500 a champagne soaked party but if he is to win the Great American Race for a fourth time he will be chased to Victory Lane by stock car's biggest names.
The front of the grid for Sunday's NASCAR showcase is a who's who of the stock car world packed with former 500 winners and Sprint Cup champions.
Gordon will start from pole but will be surrounded by Hendrick Motorsports team mates with six-time series champion and twice Daytona winner Jimmie Johnson lining up alongside him on Row 1 with defending champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his rearview mirror starting from Row 2.
"This year I think all these thoughts of my whole career kind of coming into one moment, one season," said the 43-year old Gordon, who announced earlier this would be his final Daytona 500. "I think if I win anywhere it’s going to be kind of like that this year.
"To do it in the Daytona 500 would be unbelievable, almost surreal for me to even think about it right now.
"On Sunday, when I get up that morning, think about that day, that will come into my mind.”
Gordon will also be thinking about his team mates who will be out spoil his farewell.
For everyone else in the 43 car field getting in front of the powerhouse Hendricks operation at the high-banked 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway will be a challenge.
Johnson has been fast since arriving in Florida winning the second qualifying race on Thursday night, while Earnhardt secured his third-place starting spot by winning the second qualifying heat.
“It’s huge [for Hendrick Motorsports] to have the week we have had with the front row being secured, the wins tonight, it has been a great start to Speedweek.”
Kyle Busch, who drives for three-time Super Bowl winning coach Joe Gibbs, will start from the fourth in the first Toyota to challenge the top three Chevrolets.
Joey Logano, the best performing Ford driver this week goes off in fifth and Carl Edwards sixth.
Three-time NASCAR champion, Tony Stewart, is on the comeback trail after suffering a broken leg in 2013 in a dirt track race.
Last year, Stewart co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing parked himself for three races in the aftermath of another dirt track incident that claimed the life of a young race driver who walked into the path of his car. Stewart, who says he’s ready to turn the page, will start seventh.
Danica Patrick, who tangled with Denny Hamlin during qualifying on Thursday evening, will be relegated to the 10th row, in 20th spot.
(Editing by Steve Keating.)