Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott won Thursday’s Can-Am Duels to complete qualifying for the Daytona 500 and set the race’s final order, but there are other implications from the races as well. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Thursday’s races:
1. Throw out those early Daytona 500 predictions
Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski – three early favorites to win “The Great American Race” – and for what? To crash out of the qualifying duels and destroy their primary cars. It’s especially gutting for Keselowski, who won Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash and was easily one of the fastest cars this week. Johnson and Larson were contenders as well, but Keselowski has been the standout in Florida from the get-go, and his chances to win a Daytona 500 have never been so promising. Backup cars are backup cars for a reason, and it will be tough for any of those three to get their fill-in cars in position to legitimately challenge for the checkered flag.
2. All that talk about youth? Well ...
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Elliott and Blaney both made deep playoff runs last season, and they have proven a few seasons into their careers that they’re the real deal. It wouldn’t be a shock if either won their first Daytona 500 on Sunday. But beyond the two duels winners, there were a handful of impressive younger drivers. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. finished third in one (and probably should have been second) and Erik Jones was third in the other. At a time when NASCAR needed its up-and-coming drivers to take a leap forward, they’re doing just that.
3. Are the cars too fast to handle? Potentially
And that’s no observation – that’s straight from the mouths of several drivers and crew chiefs, who all said they would sacrifice a bit of speed for handling. It’s all well and good to have a superfast car, but if it’s uncontrollable (as is proving to be the case so far this week) then it does no good. How might the lack of handling manifest itself in the actual Daytona 500? Probably with more wrecks – potentially many more wrecks. It didn’t even take physical contact to cause crashes on Thursday; when that happens, there’s no telling how many cars will get caught.
The projected lineup for Sunday’s race, from NASCAR.com:
Starting Position, Driver, Team
1. Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports
2. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
3. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske
4. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports
5. Joey Logano, Team Penske
6. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing
7. Darrell Wallace Jr. Richard Petty Motorsports
8. Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing
10. Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing
11. Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing
12. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
13, Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing
14. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing
15. David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports
16. Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing
17. Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing
18. Trevor Bayne, Roush Fenway Racing
19. Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing
20. AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing
21. Chris Buescher, JTG Daugherty Racing
22. Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports
23. Ty Dillon, Germain Racing
24. Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing
25. Brendan Gaughan, Beard Motorsports
26. Kasey Kahne, Leavine Family Racing
27. Jeffrey Earnhardt, StarCom Racing
28. Danica Patrick, Premium Motorsports
29. Justin Marks, Rick Ware Racing
30. DJ Kennington, Gaunt Brothers Racing
31. Brad Keselowski, Team Penske
32. Corey LaJoie, TriStar Motorsports
33. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports
34. Gray Gaulding, BK Racing
35. Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports
36. Matt DiBenedetto, Go Fas Racing
37. Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing
38. Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing
39. David Gilliland, RBR Enterprises
40. Mark Thompson, Phoenix Air Racing
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida.
When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.