Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet ready for Daytona 500
With little to gain and everything to lose, Tony Stewart took a smart and conservative approach in the Budweiser Duel Thursday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, twin qualifying races that set the 43-car field for the season-opening Daytona 500.
Already having to start at the back of 56th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Stewart knew risking his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for a strong finish in his Budweiser Duel race offered little reward. An unapproved engine change on Saturday prior to qualifying meant Stewart would start at the back of the 43-car Daytona 500 field, no matter his finish in the Budweiser Duel. But Stewart still had to race and earn at least a top-15 finish to ensure that his new-for-2014-teammate, Kurt Busch, would make the Daytona 500.
In order to avoid a doomsday scenario where Busch missed the Daytona 500 because there was no champion’s provisional to be had, Stewart knew he had to race to a solid finish his Budweiser Duel race. Stewart did just that, bringing home a clean Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet to a solid, 10th-place finish.
“The 41 car is in because we’re in,” said Stewart, who wears the dual hat of driver and owner at SHR, as he co-owns the four-car team with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. “It’s hard to get four cars in, especially when you’ve got to race a couple of them in. Just to get through one qualifying race and know that you’re going to have all four cars in, that is a comforting feeling.”
Stewart’s ability to race in the Duel also provided valuable insight that he and his Bass Pro Shops/Mobil1 team can put toward Sunday.
“We were kind of in a position there where we didn’t want to take any chances and were where we needed to be at the beginning anyway,” said Stewart, who will make his 16th Daytona 500 start on Sunday. “There was no need to get in a hurry. We just stayed in line and rode around with the guys we were with for a while and let it shake out.”
Even with the champion’s provisional available, Busch made sure he didn’t need it. He finished third in his Budweiser Duel to slot him eighth for the Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, joined Stewart in the first Duel. Patrick finished 13th and Harvick was credited with a 24th-place finish.
Harvick actually finished second in his Duel but was dropped to last place after his car failed post-race inspection. NASCAR officials determined his car “exceeded the maximum split on the track bar.”
Typically, the finishes Stewart and Patrick earned in the Duel would slot them 21st and 27th, respectively, in the Daytona 500. However, with both drivers having to change engines prior to qualifying, both have to start at the back of the Daytona 500.
Harvick will start 38th in the Daytona 500 via a provisional.
Matt Kenseth won the first Budweiser Duel by .022 of a second over Harvick. With Harvick’s second-place run being stricken from the record, everyone behind Harvick moved up a position. Kasey Kahne finished second, while Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Josh Wise took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Aric Almirola, A.J. Allmendinger, David Gilliland, Ryan Newman and Stewart.
Denny Hamlin won the first Budweiser Duel, which ended under caution due to a multicar accident on the last lap just before the checkered flag. Jeff Gordon finished second, while Busch, Paul Menard and Brian Scott comprised the remainder of the top-five. Rounding out the top-10 were Trevor Bayne, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Landon Cassill and Clint Bowyer.
With the Budweiser Duel now complete, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Austin Dillon, and alongside him is Truex. By notching the two quickest times during Sunday’s time trials, both drivers were able to lock themselves into the front row for the Daytona 500. Truex, however, will have to move to the back of the Daytona 500, for he was involved in the last-lap wreck in the second Duel which forced him to a backup racecar.
Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Ryan Truex, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Eric McClure and Dave Blaney.
The Daytona 500 gets underway at 1 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 23.