DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Gatorade Duel At Daytona delivered back-to-back thrilling finishes as Jimmie Johnson edged Kevin Harvick at the stripe by .005 seconds – the second-closest finish in the history of the Gatorade Duel since the inception of electronic timing and scoring.
Kasey Kahne, behind the wheel of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford, nipped Tony Stewart at the line in the second Gatorade Duel by .014 seconds to capture his first win on the legendary 31-degree high banks of Daytona.
“It feels great,” Kahne said of his inaugural win on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. “You watch tons of races growing up as a kid. I can remember every Daytona 500, having 15-20 people at my house. Daytona is one of those tracks that has a ton of history. My car owner, Richard Petty, is a big part of that history and it feels good to be in Victory Lane here.”
“As I went by the start/finish line sideways, I looked up and hoped that it was the checkered (flag) because I felt like I was going to spin out,” said Johnson, who posted his first win in the 60-lap event and his third career triumph at the “World Center of Racing”. “Everybody wants this big prize. Everybody wants to win the Daytona 500. I think we sent a message today.”
Johnson, the four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, had to start at the back of the pack after his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet was involved in an incident during practice on Wednesday.
The car, which the 2006 Daytona 500 champion raced to a second-place finish here last July in the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, made its way through the pack and into the top 10 before leading the last seven laps of the race.
Kahne, who gave Ford their first win in the Gatorade Duel since Elliott Sadler back in 2006, had a shorter trip to the top 10 -- starting in the middle of the pack and leading twice for three laps.
Mark Martin, pole winner for the 52nd annual Daytona 500, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be starting alongside Martin on the front row Sunday, led off their respective Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races to determine the starting order for “The Great American Race”.
Martin led once for a race-high 28 laps, and Earnhardt Jr. led once for five laps.
Three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon will have to go to a back-up car and start at the rear of the field on Sunday after being involved in the final caution of the first Gatorade Duel with only six laps to go.
“We sent our Budweiser Shootout car that we wrecked on the last lap (Saturday night) home,” said Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. “They’ve already repaired that, so that car is as good as new. We’re better off bringing that car out. (It’s) been back to the shop, repaired and ready to come back down.”
Of the 19 drivers who were not guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s season opener, Michael McDowell and Max Papis raced their way into the field during the first Gatorade Duel and earned their first career starts in the Daytona 500.
Mike Bliss and Scott Speed earned the transfer spots into the Daytona 500 in the second Gatorade Duel while two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott, Joe Nemechek, Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip earned a starting spot with their qualifying times.
Among the drivers failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 included Casey Mears, 2007 Daytona 500 pole winner David Gilliland, 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope, Reed Sorenson and Dave Blaney.
Tickets for all Hershey’s Milk & Milkshakes Speedweeks events, including the 52nd annual Daytona 500, are available on your web-enabled phone at mobile.daytonainternationalspeedway.com, online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.