The Budweiser Duel At Daytona races Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway were separate events won in equally dominating fashion by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
The Budweiser Duel, consisting of two 150-mile (60 laps) qualifying races, established positions 3-32 for the 57th annual DAYTONA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, with the top two qualifiers from last Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 Qualifying Presented by Kroger – three-time champion Jeff Gordon and two-time champion Johnson – already locked into the front row. Gordon and Johnson started from the pole in the respective Duel events.
Earnhardt, the defending DAYTONA 500 champion who will start third in “Great American Race,” started from the rear in the first Budweiser Duel event in the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet because his original 10th-place qualifying effort was disallowed due to a height violation found in post-qualifying inspection. The charge to the front resulted in him leading the last 18 laps – and looking like a solid contender to repeat as champion.
“We knew this car was really fast when we got on the track Sunday,” Earnhardt said. “This car seems to be quick no matter what situation it’s in; I felt like the car made the job a lot easier.”
Gordon, despite his locked-in status, went for the win in the first race – and finished a strong second, 0.185 seconds behind Earnhardt, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“I wish I could say this was an easy test but it wasn’t,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. “I ran three-wide [a lot].”
In the second Budweiser Duel, Johnson – another Hendrick Motorsports star – also was dominant, leading 40 laps behind the wheel of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. Kyle Busch finished second and will start fourth in the DAYTONA 500.
“It’s huge [for Hendrick Motorsports] to have the week we have had with the front row being secured, the wins tonight, it has been a great start to Speedweeks,” Johnson said.
Danica Patrick pulled off a late rally in the second Budweiser Duel, coming back from a spin on Lap 57 that damaged her No. 10 Chevrolet significantly. Getting late drafting help from teammate Kurt Busch, she finished 10th and made the DAYTONA 500 field.
Starting positions 33-36 went to the four fastest drivers from the qualifying session who didn’t make the “big show” via qualifying or the Duel-race finishes. Those four: Aric Almirola, two-time champion Michael Waltrip, two-time champion Matt Kenseth and Johnny Sauter.
Positions 37-42 are provisional spots based on 2014 car owner points, going to the highest-finishing six entries who didn’t qualify for the DAYTONA 500 via qualifying or the Budweiser Duel. Those six:
Former champion Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr., Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears and Denny Hamlin.
The 43rd and final spot went to Bobby Labonte – the most recent (2000) former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion in the field who hadn’t otherwise made the DAYTONA 500 field.
Tickets for the 57th annual DAYTONA 500 and all Budweiser Speedweeks 2015 events are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtag #DAYTONA500 and #SPEEDWEEKS. Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Fans can follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising on Twitter or visiting www.daytonarising.com.