Joe Gibbs Racing fared well during the Budweiser Duel qualifying races on Thursday that helped set the starting grid for Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. With Matt Kenseth leading half of the first 60-lap Duel en route to a win and Denny Hamlin getting to the start/finish line first with a big wreck breaking out behind him in the second Duel, JGR swept the Budweiser Duels victory lane.
The total 120-lap, 300-mile distance of the two races, combined, ran nearly clean and caution-free until the final feet of the last lap of the second Duel. Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas, stacking up the field behind him.
“I did (run out of gas) and feel terrible (for causing the wreck),” Johnson said.
The stack-up resulted in a wreck that saw Clint Bowyer’s car do a complete 360-degree flip in mid-air and Martin Truex Jr.’s car catch fire. The wreck also involved the cars of Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip and David Regan. Truex had previously claimed the second starting spot for the Daytona 500, but as a result of now having to go to a backup car, he’ll have to drop to the back of the 43-car field for the start of the race on Sunday.
Daytona 500 pole sitter Autstin Dilllon led the first Duel until losing the spot to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 15. Kenseth then took the lead just before the halfway point and remained up front for most of the remaining laps. For most of that distance, Kevin Harvick ran second to Kenseth. There was a three-wide race to the checkered flag between Kenseth, Harvick and Kahne, with Kenseth holding on for the win, Harvick crossing the line second and Kahne third. After the race, though, Harvick’s car failed post-race inspection because of a track bar issue and his finish was disallowed. As a result, Kahne was moved up to second, with Marcos Ambrose taking third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Josh Wise fifth.
“We just had a really strong Dollar General Toyota Camry,” Kenseth said.
In the second Duel, Brad Keselowski took the lead from pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. on lap three and led the way for the first half until a he was caught speeding on pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Keselowski’s penalty handed the lead to Hamlin, who didn’t look back. Hamlin remained up front, with Kurt Busch running second. With cars wrecking behind them on the final lap, Jeff Gordon got by Busch to claim second at the finish. Busch wound up third, with Paul Menard fourth and Brian Scott rounding out the top-five. The win was Hamlin’s second in two races at Daytona Speedweeks, as he also won the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race last weekend.
“Once that snowball starts to roll, it’s hard to stop it,” Hamlin said.
With the entire Daytona 500 qualifying process complete, here is the starting lineup for Sunday’s race:
But first, check out Matt Kenseth’s post-race interview, below, and then take a look at the photo gallery that follows (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).