Daytona Duels: Kenseth and Hamlin lead Toyota sweep
Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin led a Joe Gibb Racing sweep of Thursday’s night’s twin Budweiser Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway to set the 43-car field for the Sunday’s 56th-running of the Daytona 500.
Kenseth bested Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne in a thrilling three-wide shootout to win the opening race, while Hamlin topped the second race over Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch in a wild finish that saw a nine-car pileup coming out of the final turn that will send several of the frontrunners to backup cars for the Daytona 500.
With a spot in the field for NASCAR’s biggest race on the line, 48 drivers battled for one of the 43 coveted spots in the Daytona 500 lineup, with the finishing order of Thursday’s night’s races setting the grid for Sunday’s Sprint Cup season opener.
Kenseth led the final 24 laps of the first 60-lap race, taking the lead following a round of pit stops on lap 36.
After pitting for fuel only, Kenseth beat Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne off pit road and rejoined the field as the leader as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. surrendered the top spot to pit for fuel.
The top five ran nose to tail for almost all of the remaining laps until the final lap, when Harvick made his move coming out of turn four, diving to the inside of Kenseth to try for the lead.
Harvick managed to nose ahead for just a moment as Kenseth side-drafted to pull back even about 100 yards from the finish just as Kahne dropped to the inside of Harvick to make it three wide, but Kenseth was able to inch just ahead of Harvick as they came to the stripe, taking the win by less than three feet over Harvick with Kahne just a car-length behind Harvick to finish third. Marcos Ambrose and Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the top five.
Following the race, Harvick’s car failed inspection and his finish in the opening race was thrown out, forcing Harvick to use a provisional starting spot for the 500.
With his win in the Budweiser Duel, Kenseth will start third in the Daytona 500 behind pole sitter Austin Dillon, who finished 19th in the Duel.
“I saw (Harvick) laying back getting a run and he made the perfect move,” said Kenseth of the final lap. “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.”
Josh Wise came home sixth as the highest finisher among those who had to race their way into Sunday’s field, putting him 11th on the grid for the Daytona 500. Rookies Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman also raced their way in, while Michael McDowell’s 22nd-place finish wasn’t enough to make the race.
“We’re in the Daytona 500, the biggest race of the year and it’s pretty cool to say it,” said Whitt, who rallied back from hitting the wall in practice on Wednesday. “To be in the Daytona 500 is something I've dreamed of my whole life. I can’t believe it -- it's like a win for us.”
And then once again, they saved all the drama for the final lap.
Coming out of turn four, Johnson’s no. 48 Chevrolet ran out of fuel right in front of the field, collecting Jaime McMurray, outside polesitter Martin Truex, Jr., two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer, who did a 360-degree barrel-roll in mid-air before coming down on all four wheels and driving away.
Busch held on for third, followed by Paul Menard and Brian Scott. 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was sixth – the best of “Go or Go Home” drivers – and made the field for the 500, along with Landon Cassill, Terry Labonte and Bobby Labonte who all raced their way in.
Hamlin’s victory in the second Duel was his second win of Speedweeks after winning the Sprint Unlimited race last Saturday night and his third straight victory after winning the 2013 season finale at Homestead.
“For us the win tonight keeps our roll going from this week,” said Hamlin, who will line up fourth for the Daytona 500. “Obviously the start of Speedweeks with the Unlimited win was special because I started off 2014 the way we ended '13. You get rejuvenated, get excited about a clean slate that you have for ourselves this year.
“Right now it's a huge snowball, it's really like an avalanche, and it's just not stopping.”
Among the drivers to race their way into the show was Parker Kligerman, who will start 41st in a back-up car after crashing during practice on Wednesday and sliding down the racetrack on his roof.
“We were constantly doing the math, screaming and yelling and looking around,” said Kligerman. “It's an honor to be part of it for the first time, it's an honor to have a chance at it. I'm grateful and astonished to be here and ready to get the job done.”
Five drivers failed to make the field for the 500 including McDowell, Eric McClure, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek and Morgan Shepherd.
Results Race 1
Results Race 2
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