Ricky Stenhouse Jr. needed just two days to get his new team to the top.

Stenhouse won the pole Sunday for the season-opening Daytona 500 next weekend, putting JTG-Daugherty Racing in the NASCAR spotlight for a week. Stenhouse’s third pole in 257 Cup Series starts, and first at Daytona International Speedway came on his second day in the new Chevrolet Camaro.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 09: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger Chevrolet, poses with the Busch Pole Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 09, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

His first day behind the wheel came during practice Saturday.

“It’s the best driving Camaro I’ve ever driven,” Stenhouse quipped.

Stenhouse turned a fast lap at 194.582 mph to claim the pole, edging Alex Bowman for the top spot. Bowman reached 194.363 mph around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway to lock down a front-row spot for the third consecutive year. Bowman finished 17th and 11th, respectively, in the last two openers.

“As a race car driver, there’s not much you can do to make them go faster,” Bowman said. “But you can sure screw them up, so at least I didn’t do that.”

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 08: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Valvoline Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 08, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Only the top two spots were determined in single-car qualifying. The starting order for the rest of the 40-car field will be set by a pair of qualifying races Thursday at Daytona.

Even so, the Hendrick Motorsports entries clearly have speed: Stenhouse’s engines are built by Hendrick, and Hendrick drivers Bowman, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson were second through fourth on the speed chart.

Defending race winner Denny Hamlin was fifth fastest.

Winning the pole means little, if anything, at NASCAR’s premier race. No pole winner has gone on to win “the Great American Race” since Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett in 2000.

But for Stenhouse, the accomplishment meant everything.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 09: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 09, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

He was surprisingly dumped by Roush Fenway Racing in October, long after the two-time Xfinity Series champion thought he was good for another year with the only NASCAR team for which he’s driven. The team had a chance to bring back former developmental driver Chris Buescher and gave him Stenhouse’s seat in the No. 17 Ford.

Stenhouse, coincidentally, replaced Buescher at JTG and brought crew chief Brian Pattie with him.

“I think there’s a handful of us that feel like we have something to prove,” Stenhouse said. “I feel like I can still get the job done behind the wheel and win races like we did in the Xfinity Series. … That was a huge move for me going over there, bringing people that I’m familiar with that have always been in my corner. I think I’d have been lost not having them there.”

There was an opportunity in Sunday qualifying for two teams that don’t hold charters to lock up spots in the starting grid. Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan, the youngest and oldest drivers on the Daytona 500 entry list, landed those.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 09: Brendan Gaughan, driver of the #62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Chevrolet, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 9, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Haley was the surprise winner of last July’s rain-shortened race at Daytona, getting the victory for Spire Motorsports during a lengthy weather delay. It was his third, and final Cup Series start in 2019.

“We definitely have a car fastest enough to win this race under green-flag conditions,” said the 20-year-old Haley, who is now driving for Kaulig Racing.

The start-up team doesn’t have a backup car on hand and expects to be really cautious during its qualifying race.

“It was pretty crucial for us, obviously,” Haley said. “I didn’t think I was going to be that nervous. But there were a little bit of nerves even though I have a couple of Cup starts. This is still the Daytona 500, something I’ve always dreamed about.”

DOVER, DELAWARE – OCTOBER 05: Justin Haley, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway on October 05, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The 44-year-old Gaughan plans to make four starts this year — all at superspeedways — before retiring. He has one top-five finish in 62 career Cup starts at Talladega in 2004.

“I never knew when the last one was going to be,” Gaughan said. “I know when this one is. We made it, we’re here, and I’m going to have a bitchin’ time.”

Daniel Suarez, booted by Stewart-Haas Racing the weekend of last year’s season finale, landed a ride with a non-chartered team and will have to race his way into the 500 after failing to qualify on speed.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 09: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 09, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“We have to race, and we have to race hard,” said Suarez, whose Gaunt Brothers Racing team was admittedly shocked by its relatively slow speed in practice and qualifying. “We have a lot of challenges. I know what I can do. I have to go out there Thursday and get it done.”

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