Hendrick hesitant to change Bowman's engine before 500

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Crew members work on William Byron's car after he wrecked in the second of two qualifying auto races for the NASCAR Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, early Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hendrick Motorsports will spend Friday troubleshooting the engine in Alex Bowman's pole-winning Daytona 500 car. Changing the motor and forfeiting Bowman's starting spot will be a last resort.

Chad Knaus, vice president of competition for Hendrick, said the No. 48 team will ideally use Saturday's final two practice sessions to determine if the engine can make it 500 miles on Sunday.

“We think the engine is OK, but we're undecided just yet,” said Knaus, who won the NASCAR title seven times as a crew chief. “If we don't see any issues then we'll go out and practice and make a decision tomorrow.”

The engine problem developed midway through the first of two 150-mile qualifying races Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway. Bowman brought the car to pit road for his crew to check it because he didn't want to risk blowing the engine.

Bowman is scheduled to start on the pole for the second time in four years. If his engine is changed, he will be dropped to the back of the 40-car field at the start.

Hendrick Motorsports suffered another blow when William Byron was involved in a crash in his qualifying race that destroyed his Chevrolet. Byron was set to start alongside teammate Bowman in a Hendrick sweep of the front row but now falls to the back in a backup car.

Hendrick will now have only one car at the front of the Daytona 500 field — maybe none if Bowman's engine is deemed too risky not to change.

“It's always something you weigh when you qualify in the front row — how aggressive do you get in the 150? Do you race hard? Do you not race hard? It's a balance,” Knaus said. "But the only way to get these guys practice is to legit race. I think (Byron) showed a lot of speed, so I think they made the right call (to race)."

The pole-sitter has not closed out a Daytona 500 victory since Dale Jarrett in 2000.