DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Bowman put a familiar car atop the Daytona 500 leaderboard.

Bowman won the pole in his debut as the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, piloted until last season by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Six of Earnhardt’s 17 career victories at Daytona International Speedway came in that car, including one of his Daytona 500 victories.

Earnhardt was a seven-time pole winner at Daytona, too.

Now retired, the empty seat in the No. 88 went to Bowman, and he wasted little time making the Camaro his own. Bowman turned a lap at 195.644 mph Sunday to earn the top starting spot for next Sunday’s race.

“I think it’s still a little surreal,” said Bowman, who will race in his second Daytona 500.

“It’s a dream come true just to drive for Hendrick Motorsports,” Bowman said. “I never would have thought it would happen after the path my career took.”

Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner, qualified second in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing with a lap at 195.092. Only the top two cars locked in spots for the season-opening race. The remainder of the field will be set by a pair of qualifying races Thursday.

Bowman was a driver struggling to piece together a schedule when Earnhardt was injured in 2016. Earnhardt missed the second half of that season because of a concussion, and Bowman filled in for 10 races.

The 24-year-old Arizona native impressed Rick Hendrick enough that when Earnhardt said he would retire at the end of 2017, Bowman got the job.

He made his boss proud with the pole-winning run. Hendrick is now tied with Harry Ranier for the record of most consecutive Daytona 500 poles at four. Jeff Gordon won the pole in 2015, and Chase Elliott won it the past two seasons.

CLASH: Brad Keselowski led a 1-2 Team Penske sweep in the exhibition race that marks the opening of Speedweeks.

The three-car Penske contingent moved to the front and had the race in control as they closed in on the checkered flag. Ryan Blaney pulled out of line on the final lap in an attempt to pass his teammate, but he was left alone in the bottom lane and faded into traffic as Joey Logano moved up to second.