Denny Hamlin passes Earnhardt to win second Daytona Duel
Denny Hamlin won the Can-Am Duel despite himself.
Hamlin started third and led two of the first four laps, but stumbled following a pit road penalty. However, he rebounded in a big way.
With a run on the outside — and an assist from Austin Dillon — Hamlin blew by Dale Earnhardt Jr. with two laps remaining and held the point for his third win at Daytona International Speedway.
“Got a great push there for Austin,” Hamlin said. "We worked really well together that entire race. I’ll keep that in mind in the 500. It looked like our cars were really good together. I can’t thank this team enough for a great job by Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief). FedEx announced their renewal today so that’s a great sign of a great year hopefully to come.”
Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Dillon rounded out the top-five finishers.
Earnhardt led the field to the green flag to start the race. Before the first lap was even completed, Hamlin and Bowyer made contact before the No. 11 car moved alongside Earnhardt to challenge on the outside. By Lap 3, Hamlin was out front, but Earnhardt regained the point two laps later.
At the 10-lap mark, the lead pack ran single file. Hamlin, who dropped out of the top 10, pulled out of line to the inside lane and recruited Austin Dillon to join him. Dillon experienced cooling issues and ran in clean air long enough to lower his temperatures before jumping back in line.
By Lap 18, the 15-car pack returned to a single-file formation with Jimmie Johnson testing the bottom with no success. Four laps before the competition caution, Hamlin tried the inside again.
Just 23 circuits in, Earnhardt lapped his nephew Jeffrey Earnhardt and Timmy Hill, who battled unsuccessfully for a transfer position.
NASCAR threw a competition caution after 25 laps with Earnhardt leading 23 of the first 25 circuits. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne was second followed by Ryan Blaney, David Ragan and Bowyer.
Battle with Blaney
Blaney assumed the lead out of the pits after taking fuel only. Earnhardt followed by Kahne, Ragan and Hamlin. However, Hamlin, who entered the pits in 11th-place and exited fifth, was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes on pit road and was forced to start at the rear of the field.
When the race returned to green, Earnhardt regained the lead with Blaney in tow. On Lap 33, Blaney tested the inside lane but dropped to third as Larson put some steam behind the No. 88 Chevy. As the field crossed the start-finish line on Lap 36, Kahne was pushing Earnhardt but Blaney battled back to second on the next lap.
By Lap 36, Hamlin recovered to seventh. Johnson made his move on Lap 38, pulling up behind Earnhardt while putting the block on Blaney. When the Hendrick Chevys cross the line with 20 laps remaining, Earnhardt led the line followed by Johnson and Kahne.
Trouble for contenders
Following contact by David Ragan, Johnson bounced off Blaney in Turn 3 on Lap 42. The incident forced the No. 21 Ford onto pit road two laps later. Rookie Erik Jones, who received damage at the rear of the pack, also pitted. Johnson dropped to 14th and continued despite a tire rub. On Lap 46, he ignited the second caution of the night after his tire gave and he hit the wall. Johnson recovered to finish 13th.
Earnhardt maintained the lead followed by Kahne, Larson, Hamlin and Ryan Newman when the green flag flew with nine laps to decide the contest. With eight to go, Hamlin moved into second, but with two Chevys behind him there was no immediate help to challenge Earnhardt. Larson side-drafted Hamlin with five laps to go, and Earnhardt was forced to defend the point.
Although Earnhardt led 53 of 60 laps, Hamlin moved to the outside of the No. 88 and held on to a 0.214-second lead over Bowyer.
“We definitely had a strong car but so much of that race was single file and so it was really tough to show what we could do in the pack once we got two and three wide, but it looked like our car could make some really good moves and got a great push from the 3 ( Dillon) there at the end,” Hamlin said. It looked like our cars worked really, really well together there so we’ll keep that in mind when I need somebody to draft with in the 500. Great job by the team. The car was great. Had a little penalty there but definitely felt confident we could come back from it and we did.”
Jr. not sure what he could have done differently
Earnhardt, who qualified second and will remain on the front row, finished sixth in his first race back after missing half of the 2016 season. With the run Hamlin had coming to the line, Earnhardt felt there was no point blocking.
“If it was the Daytona 500, same thing,” Earnhardt said. “There ain’t much you can do about that. It’s not really defendable. So, it’s a good job by Denny and those guys putting it all together at the end.”
Bowyer comes one position short
Bowyer was just thrilled to be back in the game. The 60-lap qualifier provided the driver a glimpse of what lies ahead driving the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“Damn, this is fun again,” Bowyer exclaimed. “Man, what a rocket ship. We obviously want to win but I am super impressed with this team. This is the one we have been waiting for. Mike (crew chief Bugarewicz) and all the guys put a lot of hard work into bringing a fast car and oh boy did they.
“It just creates more opportunities. You can play offense the whole time out there. That is the first chance I have had to practice the draft in this thing. There are some new gremlins I need to work on with handling and driving characteristics that are adjustable for my likings but I am really proud and happy to be running like that. This is going to be a fun year.”
Kennington in the big show
DJ Kennington rolled to the transfer spot. He beat Elliott Sadler to the 0.039-seconds at the line to qualify for his first Daytona 500.
“To be in the Daytona 500, that’s a dream come true for me,” said Kennington, 39, who makes just his second Cup start on Sunday.
"The last chance we had was to beat the (No.) 7 car."
The Nos. 37, 47 and 78 cars failed the height requirements in post-race inspection. Both AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr., forfeit their points earned during their Duels.
|6||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||60||0.43|
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About this article
|Sub-event||Thursday Duel 2|
|Location||Daytona International Speedway|
|Drivers||Dale Earnhardt Jr. , D.J. Kennington , Denny Hamlin|
|Teams||Joe Gibbs Racing|