Thursday night’s Budweiser Duels sparked dreams for some and disappointment in others.
Joe Gibbs Racing was dominant as two of the organization’s drivers were in Victory Lane after both races.
Matt Kenseth was able to come away with the win in the first race, fighting off a charging Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. All three were close to the finish line for the win but Kenseth was able to get across in winning fashion to claim the first victory of the evening.
However, Harvick’s second place finish was disallowed as his car failed post-race inspection. He will still make the field for Sunday’s race, just a little deeper in the pack.
In a post-race interview with Toyota, Kenseth said his win didn’t come easily.
“The whole race was tough. We kind of got hung back there. I made a couple moves there in the beginning that just didn’t work out and got us straight to the back. After that, we were fortunate enough that the bottom lane kind of got rolling. A few guys from the back got going and I was able to get in the front of them and get up toward the lead. Then we were able to hold it there. Kevin (Harvick) did a great job — he slowed up and had the perfect run that he needed. I saw it coming and I couldn’t block it. It was too fast and fortunately I was able to get down to his right rear and get a little air back off of him and get a run to the finish line. It was exciting.”
The second Budweiser Duel found Brad Keselowski at the front of the single-file pack for the first part of the race but was too fast exiting the pits after a quick stop and had to serve a penalty. When Keselowski entered pit lane to serve that penalty, he smoked the tires which caused the left front tire to flatten. He had to pit again to change tires and ended up finishing in the last position.
Keselowski’s mistake allowed Denny Hamlin to march to the front of the field. On the final lap, Jimmie Johnson was running in the top five when he ran out of gas. Jamie McMurray barely tagged Johnson’s left bumper as Johnson slowed, but it was enough to send Johnson sideways. He collected McMurray and caused a chain reaction. Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota got turned around and went airborne, flipping once and landing on its tires. The No. 78 of Martin Truex, Jr. and Johnson’s race car caught fire before coming to a halt. Michael Waltrip’s car stopped after coming into contact with a pit wall. Several other cars were collected in the crash, but luckily no driver was hurt.
It took a little time to sort it all out, but Hamlin was crowned the winner of the race.
What did Denny Hamlin learn in this 60-lap race?
“It’s just learning this draft,” explained Hamlin in a statement released by Toyota. “I mean, these cars with this aero package is a little bit different. There is a lot of defense played in it. It’s all how you work it and obviously we’re doing well at it right now.”
Truex will need to go to a backup car for the Daytona 500. He qualified on the outside pole on Sunday but will now bring up the rear of the field. Several others will travel to the back along with Truex, Jr. with backup cars.
Five drivers failed to qualify for the Daytona 500: Eric McClure, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemecheck, Morgan Shepherd, and Michael McDowell.
Here’s the starting order for the Daytona 500:
Row 1: Austin Dillon, Martin Truex, Jr.
Row 2: Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin
Row 3: Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon
Row 4: Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch
Row 5: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Paul Menard
Row 6: Josh Wise, Brian Scott
Row 7: Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne
Row 8: AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson
Row 9: David Gilliland, Landon Cassill
Row 10: Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer
Row 11: Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray
Row 12: Cole Whitt, Terry Labonte
Row 13: Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte
Row 14: Danica Patrick, Casey Mears
Row 15: Alex Bowman, Carl Edwards
Row 16: Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson
Row 17: Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Row 18: Joey Logano, Michael Annett
Row 19: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick
Row 20: Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier
Row 21: Parker Kligerman, Michael Waltrip
Row 22: David Ragan
How big was it to finish well in the Budweiser Duels for one driver?
“I was throwing up, didn’t sleep — it’s so big just to me and all the naysayers out there that say I shouldn’t be in Cup yet and I know it’s a superspeedway, but still I feel like that kind of proves that we as a race team can perform and we’ll go get them on Sunday,” stated Rookie of the Year contender Alex Bowman.
The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest race of the season, will begin shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 23.