Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch won the Can-Am Duel qualifying races Thursday at Daytona International Speedway:
Earnhardt’s victory meant more to him than the four others he has won. He will start on the second row behind pole-winner Chase Elliott in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
This one had more meaning because it came on the 15th anniversary of the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt, in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001.
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“This was special,” said Earnhardt Jr., who edged Joey Logano for the victory Thursday. “I’ve been guilty of daydreaming, and I thought about winning this today. I’m glad nothing bad happened, that we didn’t tear our car up, because that would have been embarrassing on a day like this.”
Earnhardt floated behind Denny Hamlin for several laps before finally using the air between the cars to slip past on Lap 55. Earnhardt, who started on the outside of the front row, held off Logano for the victory.
3 who mattered
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He led 43 laps in winning a Daytona 500 qualifying race for the fifth time.
Joey Logano: He will start on the third row, right behind Elliott and Earnhardt.
Michael McDowell: Finished 14th and ahead of Cole Whitt and Josh Wise. That was important because they were three of the four “open” drivers in the race, with the driver finishing highest getting one of two available spots out of the Duel in the 500.
▪ Ryan Blaney finished third and made the 500 on his time from Sunday’s qualifying. He went a lap down at one point when he went to the pits with a vibration. Turns out he had a loose rear wheel.
▪ Rookie Brian Scott spun on the frontstretch as he crossed the start-finish line, sliding over the grass and head first into a wall that was covered with a SAFER barrier. Scott, who finished 20th, was OK.
▪ Kevin Harvick, who started last, flirted with the lead late in the race before finishing fourth.
“Another win at Daytona for the Earnhardts, adding to the legacy.” – Earnhardt Jr.
Busch picked up right where he left off three months ago, when he won the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the 2015 Cup title. But there was a mess behind him, as a five-car wreck broke out on the final lap involving Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth and AJ Allmendinger.
Busch said he was worried that pack might catch him after Casey Mears ran out of gas on Lap 59 of 60. But Johnson spun when he closed in on Jamie McMurray, triggering the accident.
Busch, who started second, never fell below that spot and passed Allmendinger on Lap 40, never trailing over the final 20 laps.
Three who mattered
Kyle Busch: Won his seventh race at Daytona and earned the fourth starting spot for Sunday’s race. If Kesenth has to use a backup car Sunday, Busch would move to the front row for the green flag.
Matt Kenseth: After qualifying second for the 500 Sunday, he likely will have to start at the rear of the field in a backup car.
Jamie McMurray: Also will benefit from Kenseth’s wreck, and would start alongside Earnhardt on the second row after second-place finish Thursday.
▪ Robert Richardson Jr. joined Matt DiBenedetto as one of the two “open” drivers to make the 500 field. Richardson wasn’t even planning on driving in the 500 but got a call two weeks ago at his Texas ranch, asking if he would come to Daytona to drive BK Racing’s No. 26 Toyota. Richardson has eight Cup starts, including a 38th-place finish in the 2011 Daytona 500, his only race of that season. He doesn’t plan on driving any other Cup races this season, either.
“With the Duel races, you see things a lot slower and things aren’t quite as big, because you’ll have twice as many cars.” – Busch