Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch Earn Victories In The Can-Am Duels At Daytona International Speedwayby Camille Jones February 19, 2016
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch won in their respective Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night.
Leading the field to the green flag for Duel No. 1 was Daytona 500 pole-sitter, Chase Elliott. The rookie only led two laps throughout the event, but the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet finished Duel No. 1 unscathed, and now he will go on to lead the field to the green for the 58th running of the Daytona 500. Elliott also gained priceless experience as he battled his teammate and race winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. all night long.
“Just a lot of things learned for me,” Elliott said. “I got into positions, had a few things happen that I should have stopped before they did happen. The top was pretty dominant. I felt like whichever lane Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) was in was moving forward. He was really fast. He just does a good job working the air. That is just something I struggle with.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet went on to win the first Can-Am Duel after leading 43 of the scheduled 60 laps. The victory marked the second year in a row that Earnhardt went on to win his Duel. In fact, Earnhardt Jr. was even competing in the same car this season. The car’s name is Amelia.
“We knew it was a really good car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “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.
Finishing just behind Earnhardt Jr. and completing the top-five in Thursday night’s race was Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
“Second,” Logano said. “It seems like we have finished second twice now. I am proud of what we are doing here though. We are showing that we are one of the best speedway teams right now and I am proud of that. We still have room to gain. It is hard to pass that 88 car. He is really, really good. He has a good car and is a good driver at this stuff. You are back there just taking notes on what he is doing and we had a great run.”
With a 14th place finish, Michael McDowell raced his way into this year’s Daytona 500.
“It’s definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport and Leavine Family Racing, we’re going to have two cars in the Daytona 500, especially for a small team,” McDowell said. “To really start out the year well, it’s very important. This is such a huge race.
“It was nerve‑wracking. It wasn’t an easy one by any means. Pretty much how it goes, you have a plan, you make a plan, then it all changes when you get out there. Tonight was no different than that.”
Drivers failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 from the first Duel included Josh Wise and Cole Whitt.
The field of the second Can-Am Duel was led to the green by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth. His teammate, Kyle Busch went on to win the race after leading 35 of the 60 scheduled laps, with the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates racing in a dominant fashion for much of the race.
“Definitely a unique opportunity for us and our team,” Busch said. “Joe Gibbs Racing has come down with more speed this time around. In the Can‑Am Duels tonight we also showed we had good speed. Denny had a fast car. Myself, Matt and Carl, we ran up in the top three much of the race. Then pit stops kind of changed the order around a little bit, there at the end again with guys going for positions and trying to race a little bit and get themselves a better starting spot, it got a little bit hectic, I’d say.
“For us, all good. Ready for Sunday.”
A race that was seemingly quiet for 59 laps, ended in disaster under caution for many of the heavy-hitters in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The only caution of the race came on the final lap as Jamie McMurray made a move to block Jimmie Johnson as the field heading into Turn 1 for the final time. Johnson spun into Kurt Busch and hit the outside wall head-on.
“Just aggressive racing at the end,” Johnson said. “I had a big run. Jamie (McMurray) was trying to get underneath the 18 and that didn’t work out, and I creeped up to his outside. He moved up quickly to defend that. I could tell I was going to be taken up into the wall. I tried getting out of there but kind of got into the fence, skipped off the wall and spun out in front of everybody. It was a lot gone wrong I guess. It’s not like anything was intentional. It’s just a bummer to tear up a car after taking the white flag in a car that we tried so hard to protect and make so fast. There was just a lot gone wrong.”
Also involved in the final lap crash was Martin Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger and Danica Patrick.
Matt Kenseth said, “Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) was saying once we got shuffled he was telling me to bail out down the frontstretch and I was actually trying to find a hole to get out of there. I saw the wreck happen a while before it started and tried to start slowing down and just car got ran over from behind and got pushed under the wreck, so that’s beyond disappointed.”
Following the damage sustained AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex, Jr. will start from the rear of the Daytona 500 in back-up cars.
“Just the wrong place at the wrong time,” Truex Jr. said. “Pretty much exactly like what happened Saturday night to us – just riding along there, you know? Take the white in pretty decent spot and just they started wrecking in front of me, so there’s not much you can do, but disappointed obviously. I thought our car was really good tonight. That was really the first that we had really done some serious racing and drafting and I was really pretty happy with it, so worked our way up through there and was sitting in a pretty decent spot towards the end – was looking like we had a shot at getting another couple spots there and just mayhem.”
Completing the top-five just behind Kyle Busch in the second Duel race was Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon.
Matt DiBenedetto who finished ninth in Thursday’s Duel will be making his first appearance in the season opener.
“Being able to race in my first Daytona 500 this weekend is going to be a heck of an honor,” DiBenedetto said. “I’ve dreamed of it since I was five, so I’m excited.”
DiBenedetto’s BK Racing teammate, Robert Richardson Jr. is also in the Daytona 500 after finishing 18th. This will be Richardson Jr.’s third appearance in the race.
“I’m very, very honored to be a part of BK Racing, having another opportunity to run here at the Daytona 500,” Richardson Jr. said. “I’ve been in it once before, but this one is very, very special to me. My wife and I welcomed our brand‑new baby boy who was born in early December. Every bit of earnings we get from this race is going to go into a college fund for him.”
Missing the Daytona 500 from the second Can-Am Duel was David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson.
The Daytona 500 field has been set and the teams will have three practice sessions to perfect their machines before the green flag flies on Sunday.
Coverage for the 58th running of the Daytona 500 will broadcast live on FOX and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images