Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton won Thursday’s Gatorade Duel races at Daytona, but it was two rookies who caught the attention of the spectators.
Trevor Bayne started second in Duel #2, and from the drop of the green flag the 19-year old was hooked to the back of 3-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon. Bayne quickly took to the two-car tango and was glued to Gordon’s bumper all race, showing the veteran poise to follow Gordon through every tight crevice, and he knew exactly when to pull out to get air into the radiator to keep from overheating, without giving up ground; something other competitors had difficulty doing throughout the day.
Bayne’s great run would end in a wreck on the final lap, through no fault of his own. He will start at the back for Sunday’s Daytona 500, but will no doubt be a contender in the event when it comes down to it.
The other great stories of the day were JJ Yeley and Brian Keselowski. Yeley raced his way into the 500 in the first Duel with underfunded equipment on the final lap. But Keselowski’s story was even more impressive.
Driving for a family-owned team, the elder brother of Brad Keselowski found himself at the bottom of the speed charts in every single practice session, as well as qualifying. It appeared the Duel race would be no different for driver #92. And then his brother spun out.
When Brad spun late in the race, it allowed him to team up with his brother at the rear of the field, and the duo took off. Brad would push Brian all the way up into second place before the brothers found themselves where they would finish: with Brad in 7th, and Brian two positions ahead of him in fifth.
On Sunday, Brian will be driving the same car he ran in the Duel: a 2006 Evernham Motorsports Dodge Charger. You read that right. 2006. That’s a five-year old car that was built before the CoT days, and Brian Keselowski raced it into the Daytona 500.
Other drivers making the race on Thursday were Michael Waltrip and Dave Blaney.
Casey Mears, Todd Bodine, Derrick Cope, Michael McDowell, and Kevin Conway all failed to qualify.