The Duel 150s at Daytona—the qualifying races to determine who will be in Sunday's Daytona 500 and where they will start—lived up to they hype today with two exciting finishes, some surprises, and some not-so-surprising incidents.
Tony Stewart was the class of the field in the first race, taking the lead fairly early and staying there through a record-setting seven caution flags. One caution was brought out when Michael Waltrip, attempting to race his untried backup car into the show, nudged former teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr, spinning him out. Junior would recover to finish third, and Waltrip would make it into the 500.
Because Boris Said finished in one of the two transfer spots, he didn't need to rely on his sixth-best qualifying time from last Sunday, by default, David Reutimann was in the field on speed. This means all three Michael Waltrip Racing Camrys will be in the 500 - a fortunate break for a team that hasn't run well and had other adversity this week.
James Hylton was in position to make the 500 with 10 laps to go, before being shuffled back in traffic and failing to qualify. Stewart held on for the win.
Robby Gordon managed to destroy his first car of the yet-to-begin season, and claim his first victim - Red Bull Camry driver A.J. Almendinger. Gordon ran around the outside of A.J. around turn four, then tried to cut to the inside of a slower car, clipping the Red Bull Toyota. Gordon slid to the inside, overcorrected back right, then slammed back into Almendinger, planting him broadside into the wall. Next victim!
In the second Duel Juan Pablo Montoya raced to the front and paced the field before Kyle Busch passed, and Montoya's number 42 Dodge broke a right front wheel bearing, resulting in him dropping out. J.P.M. will start 36th on Sunday in his second career Cup start.
During the caution Kevin Harvick's transmission broke, and later Reutimann would pull his Domino's Pizza Camry behind the wall. Brian Vicker's Red Bull Camry blew a tire late, taking him, and hopes of the Red Bull team. out of contention and the 500. A caution with 11 laps to go saw several front-runners pitting for tires - a move that would win the race.
Kurt Busch would take the lead late, and his Penske Dodge looked stout, but on the last lap Jeff Gordon would get a push from David Stremme and pass Matt Kenseth going into turn three for second, then dive inside of Busch for the lead and the win. This was Gordon's third Duel victory, and he has the record for wins at Daytona among active drivers.
It was an awesome move by Jeff, who's car hasn't run well in practice this week, but post-race inspection found the rear deck one-inch low, a result of an improperly installed bolt. Gordon maintains the win, but will have to start 42nd on Sunday—a precarious position on a restrictor plate track. The question will be if he gets to pick the early (fourth) pit stall selection. No penalties will be issued against the 24 team, as NASCAR determined there was no intention to cheat, but it still sours an otherwise great come-from-behind victory.
Go Jeff Gordon, GOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!