DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Denny Hamlin got by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap of the second of two Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday as the NASCAR Cup Series held two 60-lap races to set the remainder of the starting grid for Sunday's running of the Daytona 500.
"It was great," Hamlin said. "Great car. Got a great push, there, from Austin (Dillon). We worked really well together the entire race. I'll keep that in mind in the 500. It looked like our cars were really good together. I can't thank this team enough for a great job by Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief). FedEx announced their renewal today, so that's a great sign of a great year, hopefully, to come."
With the win, Hamlin claimed the fourth starting position.
Earnhardt Jr. dominated the race. Having claimed a Daytona 500 front-row starting spot in qualifying, Earnhardt started the second Duel race on the pole. He lost the lead to Hamlin on the final lap, though, and wound up sixth at the checkered flag.
"I don't know what I could have done differently to defend that," Earnhardt said. "Once I heard the No. 3 (Dillon) was clear on the outside, I knew they were going to have a big run. Denny is so smart, and he knows what he's doing out there. He's one of the better plate racers out there. Any which way I would have went, he was going to go the other way and probably get by me. I was hoping Austin might push us a little bit, since he drives a Chevy. But I don't know if I would have done it any different that he did, either.
"Congratulations to Denny."
D.J. Kennington and Elliott Sadler advanced from the second Duel to claim the final two spots in the Daytona 500. Timmy Hill, who fell out of the second Duel on lap 29, joined Reed Sorenson, from the first Duel, in failing to make the Daytona 500.
The yellow flag waved twice in the second Duel. The first yellow flag was a competition caution at the completion on lap 25, but the second caution came for a wreck by Jimmie Johnson with 12 laps remaining. Johnson and Kyle Larson made contact while racing for second position inside 20 laps to go. Larson headed to pit road for repairs, while Johnson attempted to continue. Damage from the contact resulted in a cut tire for Johnson that sent him into the wall, bringing out the second caution.
Elliott restarted with the lead with eight laps remaining and held off charges from Harvick and McMurray over the course of the final laps to claim his first win of 2017 NASCAR Daytona Speedweeks.
"I just had a lot of steam under the hood," Elliott said. "The temperatures tonight being kind of cool, it really suited our car well. Just a great way to start the season. I know it's just a Duel win. We wished it counted towards the playoffs. We would rather it be on Sunday, but at the same time, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to our team. It means a lot to NAPA and having this car in NAPA colors tonight."
Keselowski dominated early. After starting second to polesitter Elliott, Keselowski took the lead in the opening laps and ran up front until Kyle Busch took the lead just before a competition caution came just after the completion of lap 25 of the 60-lap race.
Joey Logano, Keselowski's Team Penske teammate, was a lap down by the competition caution after making an unscheduled stop for a vibration before lap 15. He remained a lap down, pitting like the lead lap cars when the yellow flag waved.
Busch restarted with the lead, but when the race returned to green, Keselowski quickly retook the lead and was the front-runner until Elliott returned to the top spot with just over 20 laps remaining.
Reed Sorenson and Corey LaJoie, the two drivers in the first Duel racing for one of the final starting spots in the Daytona 500, got together with less than 15 laps remaining, sending Sorenson's car head-on into the inside retaining wall. As a result, Sorenson was retired from the race and eliminated from Daytona 500 starting-grid contention.
"I really do feel bad about Reed," LaJoie said. "I just tried to fill a hole, and it was getting down to it, and I probably did have position on him, but, man, when I'm trying to get into the Daytona 500, if my mom was in that spot, I'd probably wreck her, too. I'm racing on Sunday."
One other driver for an "open" team, Brendan Gaughan, ran in the back throughout the first Duel race. With speed from the Feb. 19 front-row qualifying session to fall back on, Gaughan opted to protect his equipment, as his Beard Racing team didn't bring a back-up car to Daytona.
-- Unlike in recent years past, the top-10 finishers in each of the 2017 Can-Am Duels received championship points, with the winners receiving 10 points, runners-up getting nine and so-on.
-- Practice for the Duel races, scheduled for earlier in the day Thursday, was cancelled because of rain.
-- The second Can-Am Duel marked the competitive return of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was sidelined by a concussion for the second half of the 2016 season.
-- Joey Logano headed into his Duel race, already a 2017 Speedweeks winner at Daytona International Speedway as the winner of the Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition race Feb. 19. Denny Hamlin dominated that race but wrecked with Brad Keselowski as the two raced for the lead on the final lap.
-- Despite running for "open" teams, Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler already were locked into the Daytona 500 field, prior to the Duels, by virtue of their speeds during front-row qualifying on Feb. 19.