A wild finish in Duel 1, a crazy finish in Duel 2.
Daytona Beach, Fla. – Joe Gibbs Racing and their potent Toyota’s were the class of the field in a pair of Budweiser Duel races at the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday evening. JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth came home the winners before a sizable crowd on a warm Florida evening.
The Budweiser Duel ran under the lights for the first-time and it was a real crowd-pleaser.
The opening 150-mile race was caution free and Kenseth held command for 31 of the 60 laps but ended in a three-wide finish.
The second Duel was ho-hum with a line forming at the outset and not changing until the closing laps.
But the finishes were something.
While Hamlin in the FedEx Express Toyota, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Paul Menard were crossing the finish line mayhem broke out behind them. It started when Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel, collecting Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Daytona 500 front-row starter Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards.
Bowyer’s car turned over quickly and landed on its wheels, allowing him to cross the finish line as did Truex and Edwards.
In driving to his third consecutive victory, Hamlin said, “We are on a roll, although I didn’t execute well in the first part of the race. I didn’t want to run single-file and decided to spice things up a little bit, which ended up taking me to the rear. We raced back up, wanting to get to top-10 and was within a second of them when we pitted. My pit crew did the rest, and we got back into the lead.”
He led 23 laps while Brad Keselowski led early for 34 laps before getting caught speeding on pit road and later on experiencing a cut tire. He finished last.
Behind Hamlin, Gordon, Busch and Menard in the second Duel were Brian Scott, Trevor Bayne, rookie Kyle Larson, Truex, Landon Cassill and Bowyer.
Said Kenseth of the finish, “The race ended up great for us, and we learned a lot in it. Throughout, I had the car in some positions I wouldn’t want to be in again. I made the inner line come in and took the lead after a great pit stop. When I saw Kevin (Harvick) make his move, I had to block him without wrecking.”
With Kenseth playing a role in a pair of recent incidents, he commented, “Whenever there’s an incident where it is your fault or mistake, I feel bad about wrecking cars. I was kind of embarrassed to walk into the garage, so to get the race in today helps build our confidence.”
Kevin Harvick pushed the Budweiser Chevrolet to second place; however, his car failed post-race inspection when the rake of the track bar exceeded prescribed settings. As a result, his finish was thrown out and he will have to make the Daytona 500 field based on speed or points. Kahne moved up to second ahead of Marcos Ambrose and Earnhardt. Josh Wise gained a much-needed fifth place.
Rounding out the top-10 in the opening Duel was Aric Almirola, A. J. Allmendinger, David Gilliland, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. After leading at the outset, Dillon intentionally dropped back in the field, ending up 19th . Needing to finish 15th or better to earn starting spots in Sunday’s Daytona 500 were rookies Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman in the first Duel and Cassill and Bayne in the second Duel. And they made it happen to not only make the Daytona 500 but to give their teams a financial boost.
Said Whitt, who was involved in a practice crash on Wednesday, “We weren’t ready to give up even with the things that happened to our team with Swan Racing wrecking two cars yesterday. Being in the Daytona 500 is something I have dreamed of my whole life.”
Bowman noted, “This is huge to make the Daytona 500, and it means a lot to me and my family. I got up to seventh for a while but then got shuffled out. Fortunately, I passed the right amount of cars and was thankful that it happened.”
Bayne, too, was thrilled with the outcome. “It was more than nerve-racking, and it was a lot of pressure on everyone. David Ragan helped me throughout and right until the end.”
Cassill said he had been stressed out about this weekend since July. “I’ve been playing this race over in my mind since then. We are a small team, and this result can make our season,” he said.