Hendrick Motorsports owned qualifying, and staked its claim to Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel as well.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. went from last to first to win the first 150-mile qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway and his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, ran strong the entire race and held off Kyle Busch to win the second 150-mile qualifying race.
Danica Patrick spun late in the second qualifying race. But because several cars had already wrecked out, she was able to work her way back to 10th in the final two laps to claim a spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
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The biggest turning point came with the results of the first duel race when several cars that needed to race their way in did so, putting drivers like Patrick and David Ragan in a much more precarious position in the second race.
Three who mattered
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt started from the rear of duel No. 1 (25th) because he failed post-qualifying inspection. He wasted no time rocketing to the front in his race and held on for the win. He will start third in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Jimmie Johnson: With his duel win, Hendrick drivers will now hold the top three starting positions in Sunday’s 500.
Kyle Busch: He and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards worked well together in the second race and looks like a top contender to face off with the Hendrick cars on Sunday.
▪ Several drivers whose only hope to make the 500 was to race their way in via Thursday’s duel did so, including J.J. Yeley, Cole Whitt, Landon Cassill and Michael McDowell.
▪ Ty Dillon has been coming to Daytona for Speedweeks basically since he was born. His 16th-place finish ensured a spot in the 500 field for the first time in his NASCAR career.
▪ Drivers seem much more comfortable with another year under their belt with this aero package at Daytona. With much warmer temperatures expected on Sunday, car handling will become a much more important issue and likely provide very racy conditions.
They said it
“Winning the Daytona 500 is a real challenge. The challenge didn't get easier tonight.” – Earnhardt, after winning Duel No. 1.