Daytona 500 Sunday 1p.m. (WJZY)

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Joe Gibbs Racing sweeps Budweiser Duel at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH , Fla. A Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 1993.

The organization certainly seems in strong position to end that streak this year.

JGR drivers Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin completed a sweep of Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona qualifying races. Hamlin already had a victory in his pocket, winning Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited.

Kenseth held off a furious charge from Kevin Harvick to win the first qualifying race. Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet failed a postrace inspection and he lost his finishing position.

Hamlin remained in command most of Duel No. 2 and as the drivers jockeyed for position behind him on the last lap, Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel and was hit by Jamie McMurray, which triggered a multi-car wreck as Hamlin took the checkered flag.

At one point in the wreck, Clint Bowyer’s Toyota flipped but landed on its wheels. He still was able to drive across the finish line.

“I can’t thank this team enough. We won the NASCAR golf tournament this morning, too, so we’re really undefeated,” Hamlin said from Victory Lane. “Everything has been going great.

“Once that snowball starts to roll it’s hard to stop it and right now we’re just on a heck of a run.”

Hamlin said much of the credit for his ability to get into the lead after a slow start to his qualifying race was a lightning-fast pit stop by his crew.

“I not only came out with a lead, I had a huge lead. In fact, I was afraid it was too big a lead and the line of cars coming behind me might run right past me,” Hamlin said. “I’m not necessarily sold that what has worked in these night races will automatically work on Sunday.”

Jeff Gordon finished second to Hamlin, followed by Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Brian Scott.

Kasey Kahne was credited with finishing second in the first duel, followed by Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Josh Wise.

Although Harvick’s attempt of a last-lap pass of Kenseth turned out to be for naught, Kenseth said he believes there is much more of a possibility for that move to be successful with this season’s rules package.

“It’s only a half inch (less) on the spoiler, but I think it’s made a difference. I can’t recall all four speedway races,” Kenseth said. “I’d be lying if I told you what the finishes were. I don’t recall.

“I remember the 500 last year, and I got in the front and there wasn’t anybody going to pass us, in my opinion.”

By virtue of their finishes in the first qualifying race, rookies Alex Bowman and Cole Whitt raced their way into the lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne and Terry Labonte qualified from the second race.

“I’m just so thankful for this team. It’s a lot of pressure, though. I’m not going to lie,” said Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers. “I kind of take it for granted all the time when we qualify good and don’t have to worry about these Duels.

“But we did it when it mattered and I’m really proud of these guys. They’ve worked hard on this car and deserve to be in the 500.”

Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek, Eric McClure, Michael McDowell and Morgan Shepherd failed to make the 500. Dave Blaney’s entry withdrew before the qualifying races after the team wrecked its only car during Wednesday’s first practice.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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