USA TODAY Sports’ A.J. Perez looks to the Daytona 500 and the five drivers that racing fans should keep their eye on this Sunday.
USA TODAY Sports
DAYTONA BEACH , Fla. – The lineup is now set for the 61st annual Daytona 500.
Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano won the Gander RV Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway Thursday night and will start on the second row behind Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman at Sunday’s season-opening race.
Ford Mustangs – a car that is making its debut here – finished in the top 3 of each Duel race. Clint Bowyer, who was passed by Logano in the final lap of the second race Duel assessed what made the new car different from the Fusion, which had been Ford’s prior car.
“Have you ever driven a Fusion?” Bowyer said with a smile. “Have you ever gotten out of that and got into a Mustang? When you stop at a stoplight, you might actually get a look every now and then. You’re damn right I feel better in a Mustang.”
A recap of each of the two Duels:
Harvick finished 0.165 seconds ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to earn his second career Duel victory. Paul Menard finished third.
“I am so proud of everyone and the work they have done to transition over to the Mustang and I have to thank everyone at Ford,” said Harvick, who led 44 of of the 60 laps.
Matt DiBenedetto was the highest finising Toyota in fourth, edging Martin Truex Jr., who moved to Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2018 season. Bubba Wallace finished sixth to lead the Chevrolet contingent.
Parker Kligerman, one of the drivers that didn’t have a guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500, secured a berth with a 12th-place finish.
Kyle Busch lost control of his Toyota when it appeared Jimmie Johnson came into contact midway though the race. Busch spun out, but his car didn’t suffer any major damage outside a couple flat tires in the accident that brought out a caution. He finished 18th in Duel 1.
“I just got it wrong, clearly. ” Johnson, who finished eighth, said in a broadcast interview after the race. “We were three-wide. I just kind of misjudged that situation and tried to tuck in behind Kyle. Unfortunately, I just turned him around. Sincere apologies to he and his team.”
Johnson asked his Hendrick Motorsports team to convey his apologies to Busch immediately after the contact, but Busch was unforgiving.
“Tell him I don’t want to hear it. Tell him to use his eyeballs. That’s twice in two races he’s done the same thing,” Busch said over the radio, using expletives to note that Johnson also caused a 16-car accident in Sunday’s exhibition race.
Brad Keselowski, another former Cup Series champion seeking his first Daytona 500 victory like Busch, was penalized twice in short order early in the first Duel. The first penalty was for pitting outside the pit box and earning one-lap drive-thru penalty, then he got caught speeding on pit road when he served that penalty. That put him to laps down before the midway point of the race. Keselowski finished 20th.
“Looks like just a discrepancy over what the rules are and we got the bad end of it tonight,” Keselowski said. “It is what it is. We will start the Daytona 500 from the back and have to go from there. The good news is that Daytona is a place where you can move up. It is just going to take us awhile to get there.”
William Byron started on the pole after topping qualifying on Sunday. Byron, who finished 16th, is locked into the front row for the Daytona 500 along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, who lead the field to green for Duel 2. Byron finished 16th.
The final duel lacked much action before the 2018 Cup champ made his move on the final lap.
Logano, who was in fourth as the white flag flew for the final lap, edged down the track and then past Bowyer, who finished second.
“I am not a very patient person so that race really tested my patience all the way through,” Logano said. “You have to keep weighing risk versus reward and when do you make the move and what spot you are in. … I knew it was a do-or-die moment and was able to get a big enough run.”
Bowyer, who led 41 of 60 laps, didn’t attempt to block Logano.
“If the money was on the line, sure, I’d go down there and block him and try to do whatever, but he had a massive run,” Bowyer said in a televised interview.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver later added, “I didn’t think damn Joey would do it from fourth,” Bowyer said. “I thought Denny (Hamlin), not Joey.”
Bowyer’s teammate Aric Almirola finished third. Denny Hamlin finished fourth to lead Toyota, and Kurt Busch was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth.
Brendan Gaughan raced his way into the Daytona 500 field. Casey Mears and Tyler Reddick qualified Thursday via their qualifying times, leaving Ryan Truex and Joey Gase out of the 40-car field.