|Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his fiance celebrate|
|Getty Images for NASCAR|
Dale Earnhardt, Jr won the opening Can-Am Duel qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night to set the field for Sunday’s 58th running of the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt powered past Denny Hamlin on the inside with five laps to go fought off a late charge from Joey Logano to take the checkered flag and earn a second-row start in the Daytona 500.
The victory was Earnhardt’s second consecutive win in the qualifying race and the fifth of his career, running his career Daytona victories to 15.
"When we got by (Hamlin), I was really surprised," said Earnhardt, Jr. "Then I was nervous when Joey got to second. Joey (Logano) is very good too, obviously. He's pretty aggressive like trying to get the lead. He has a great racecar.
I was glad to hold them off. But now I'm not too worried about giving away too many secrets. But the car is so good, it's really hard. When you got such a great car, it's hard to defend on a pass with a car like that.
The win comes on the 15th anniversary of his father’s death in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"It's real special," said Earnhardt, Jr. on winning on the anniversary. "I was thinking about that. I try not to make too big a deal. I've told all you guys in interviews we've done how much I like people to remember dad, talk about dad. It really warms my heart to see the stuff on social media and so forth.
"I'm guilty of daydreaming a little bit about winning this race tonight because of the day. That was special to me. Glad nothing bad happened, that we didn't tear our car up, because that would have been embarrassing on a day like this."
|Dale Jr. leads Joey Logano|
Earnhardt first grabbed the lead on lap three and seems untouchable as Hamlin and Brad Keselowski danced from the high side to the low side to catch a draft and sneak by Earnhardt.
Hamlin took over the top spot after a round of pit stops with 18 laps to go with Earnhardt tucked in behind in second.
The only caution flag of the night fell on lap 44 after Cole spun while battling Michael McDowell for one of two available transfer spots into the Daytona 500 field.
Back under green with 12 laps to go, Hamlin held the lead with a big push by Harvick but Earnhardt fought his way back and shuffled Harvick out of line for second.
Seven laps later, Earnhardt was able to duck under Hamlin and moved out in front to take over the lead.
Logano and Harvick worked the low side until Logano moved back up in line behind and took over second place.
As the field came through the backstretch on the white flag lap, Logano looked to the inside of Earnhardt and looked to have some momentum going into turn three, but Earnhardt quickly slammed the door and Logano fell back in line as they came through the short chute on the way to the finish line.
Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott finished sixth, followed by Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Blaney secured his spot in the Daytona 500 with a third-place finish. Michael McDowell finished 14th and raced his way into the field for the 500 over Cole Whitt and Josh Wise.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – WINNER
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]TALK ABOUT THE PASS FOR THE LEAD AT THE END?
"I really don't know. Denny (Hamlin) is such a great plate racer. There are a lot of guys that are really good at it these days. I knew he was going to be real tough to get around. When he got the lead I didn't know if we were going to be able to get around him. He has got a great car and he is real smart. For whatever reason I was able to get to his quarter-panel, he saw we had a pretty good run. I don't know, I didn't think I was going to clear him. We got away from him so he couldn't side draft us I guess. You will have to talk to him how it worked out for him. I was really surprised as anybody that we got by him. He will be tough on Sunday."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT YOU CAN TRANSLATE TO SUNDAY?
"Just a little bit more speed from a lot of guys. We've got a great race car. Our Nationwide Chevy has been flawless all weekend. I hope Greg (Ives, crew chief) and those guys learned some stuff. We saved fuel on all the cautions just to get a number on that and try to understand what that will be like Sunday. We are doing things out there that we are trying to prepare ourselves for a good race on Sunday. I was so nervous all week to get this through the qualifier. I want to win the race, but man, we don't have as good a car as this in the trailer. It's a good car, but this is a special, special racecar. We are going to give it all we've got on Sunday."
HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE REMAINING PRACTICES?
"We will draft very minimal. We may do a lot of single car stuff. He has probably got a list of things he wants to go through. But we won't really get out there and mix it up too much. We definitely want to take care of this car. I put a car on the pole here and wrecked it in practice. You can wreck anytime out there in practice. Anything can happen to you. We won't get out there too much."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN MOST ABOUT 'AMELIA' FOR THE 500?
"We knew it was a really good car. A lot of people don't talk about it but it won the 150 last year, so it's got three wins, a second and third. Another win at Daytona for the Earnhardt's. We keep adding to the legacy. We're up there in the 50's now with all the wins so I'm real glad to be able to do that. It was fun race. I did a lot of blocking tonight. Nothing too crazy. I'm glad it didn't have to get that way. I was just defending those guys and the moves they were putting together. It was a real challenge. There are some great cars out there. There are some really, really good guys out there that are starting to become really good on these plate tracks. Joey (Logano) is always up there, Denny (Hamlin) is tough. You see the same guys up there all the time in the last several years. They're hard to hold off. It's getting harder and harder."
IT SEEMED LIKE YOU AND DENNY (HAMILIN) WERE BOBBING AND WEAVING FOR A COUPLE OF LAPS. WHAT AS THE DIFFERENCE THAT ALLOWED YOU TO GET AROUND?
"I really don't know. Denny is such a great plate racer. There are a lot of guys that are really good at it these days. I knew he was going to be really tough to get around. When he got the lead, I didn't know if we were going to be able to get around. He's got a great car and he's real smart. For whatever reason, I was able to get in his quarter-panel, and he saw we had a pretty good run. I didn't think I was going to clear him, but we got around him so he couldn't side-draft us, I guess. You'll have to talk to him. I was as surprised as anybody that we got by him. He'll be tough Sunday."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE RACECAR OR RACETRACK FOR SUNDAY?
"Just a little bit more speed from a lot of guys. We have a great car. Our Nationwide Chevy has been flawless all weekend. I hope Greg (Ives) and those guys learned some stuff. We saved fuel on all the cautions just to get a number on that and try to understand what it will be like out there Sunday. We were doing some things to make us prepared for things out there for a good race on Sunday. I was so nervous all week to get this car through the qualifier. I want to the race, but man… we don't have as good a car in the trailer. I mean it's a good car but this one is a special, special racecar. We're going to give it all we got on Sunday."
WITH SEVERAL MORE PRACTICES TO GO, WHAT DO YOU DO TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THIS CAR FOR SUNDAY?
"We'll draft very minimal. We may do a lot of single-car stuff. (Greg) probably has a list of things he wants to go through. But we won't really get out there and mix it up too much. We definitely want to take care of this car. I put a car on the pole here before and wrecked it in practice; you can wreck any time out there in practice. Anything can happen. So we won't get out there too much. We'll trust that we have great balance. The race will be run during the day, and the balance will be a little more tricky. I think we have good balance on the car."
GREG IVES, CREW CHIEF, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS:
"Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job of working together. Everybody at the engine shop and chassis shop – the 5, 24, 48 and 88 are working great together. I couldn't be more proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports to give me this opportunity to bring such a fast race car. You can tell by Dale's enthusiasm that he's happy too."
Results 1st 150-Miler
|1||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr||Chevrolet||2||60||43||Running|
|10||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Ford||3||60||0||Running|
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