Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Busch win Duels at Daytona

By Amanda Vincent, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 19, 2016 at 12:42 AM
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch won the two 60-lap/150-mile Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

The Can-Am Duel determines all but the front-row of the starting grid for Sunday's Daytona 500. Chase Elliott won the pole and Matt Kenseth the other Daytona 500 front-row starting spot on Feb. 14.

With their wins, Earnhardt and Busch claimed second-row starting spots in the 500-mile race.

"This car is awesome," Earnhardt said. "I don't really get too confident. I don't want to get overly confident in what I'm doing, but the car really does everything I ask it to do."

The second race ran green until the white-flag lap when the caution was displayed for a multi-car crash near the front of the field that collected Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger, among others. While Kenseth will be credited with a front-row start in the Daytona 500, he will have to take the green flag from the back of the field as he will be in a backup car for the Daytona 500 after wrecking his primary car in the Can-Am Duel.

"I guess it was quite and calm there for a long time and the last lap just went kind of crazy," Busch said.

As part of the 22-car field was wrecking, Jamie McMurray finished second to Busch. Kurt Busch was third, and Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon rounded out the top five.

"Great car," Kyle Busch said. "These guys at Joe Gibbs Racing do a phenomenal job this winter building some new pieces for us to come down here with and have some fun. Looking forward to starting the Daytona 500 in the fourth spot, but I think I will actually get the outside front row now that Kenseth got caught up in that mess and tore up his car."

While Denny Hamlin ran in the first Duel, the other three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers -- Kyle Busch, Kenseth and Carl Edwards -- all ran in the second race and started in the front two rows. The three teammates ran first through third most of the race, initially with Kenseth leading and Busch taking the lead on lap 24.

With pit stops on lap 38 and 39, Edwards got separated from his teammates as Johnson, Casey Mears and McMurray got off pit road ahead of him. Mears' bid for a finish at or near the front ended when he ran out of fuel in the closing laps. With three laps to go, Johnson and Kenseth began to fade.

Matt DiBenedetto was one of the fastest drivers with "open" teams in front-row qualifying, so he was guaranteed a starting spot before the Can-Am Duel. He was also the highest "open" driver in the second Duel, so his spot based on front-row qualifying lap time reverted to Robert Richardson Jr.

"Man, that's better than winning the lottery right there," Richardson said. "Not the way we really wanted to go about doing it, but we were hanging back there, just trying to hand on to the draft. All in all, making it into the 500 is a milestone for my career, definitely."

Earnhardt dominated the first Can-Am Duel. Joey Logano finished second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

"Everybody knows how important getting the lead is at this race," Earnhardt said. "I knew how important it was to keep it (the lead), so I had to do everything I could, get pretty aggressive at blocking and getting in front of them and trying to not allow them to get up on the quarter panel. They had a great car. I know that's evident. But this car is something special."

Blaney had already secured a spot in the Daytona 500 by virtue of his lap time from front-row qualifying. However, because he was the highest finisher among the four drivers in the first Duel not locked into the 500, the other available starting position up for grabs among four drivers with "open" teams in the first Duel went to Michael McDowell.

"You all know what it means to be in the 500," McDowell said. "I've been on the other side, too, where I've been loading up, too, and going home on a Thursday night. I definitely appreciate it when we make the races."

McDowell will start on the back row in the Daytona 500, getting in on his front-row qualifying lap time. He finished 14th in his Duel race.

NOTES: Kyle Larson, Michael Waltrip and Ryan Newman wrecked during practice Wednesday. Larson and Waltrip were forced to backup cars, which they ran Thursday night. Newman's team, though, made repairs to the primary car. ... Brian Vickers continues to substitute for injured Tony Stewart. ... Kevin Harvick and Vickers had their qualifying times from Daytona 500 front-row qualifying on Feb. 14 disallowed because of an issue with their track bars in post-qualifying inspection. As a result, they started in the back for their Can-Am Duel races. Martin Truex Jr. also started in the back after failing to make a qualifying lap in front-row qualifying because NASCAR officials found a problem with one of his roof flaps. ... Thirty-six teams with charters are guaranteed spots on the 40-car Daytona 500 starting grid. Forty-four teams entered. ... Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most consecutive Duel victories, winning 10 seasons in a row.

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