Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch won the two Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races for the DAYTONA 500 Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway, earning second-row starting spots for Sunday’s “Great American Race.”
With Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth already locked in on the front row after finishing 1-2 in DAYTONA 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger this past Sunday, the Can-Am Duel established the rest of the 40-car starting grid. The respective victories by Earnhardt and Busch gave them the third and fourth starting spots. Beyond that, the first Can-Am Duel race filled the rest of the odd-number DAYTONA 500 spots, with the second race filling the remaining even-numbered spots.
Kenseth, however, will have to forfeit his front-row spot and start from the rear of the field on Sunday, because he’ll be in a back-up car. His primary No. 20 Dollar General Toyota was involved in a multi-car incident on the final lap of the second Can-Am Duel race.
Earnhardt, a two-time DAYTONA 500 champion who also won a qualifying race last year in the same No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet, got his 17th victory overall at Daytona International Speedway. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, won 34 races at DIS.
Earnhardt led twice for a total of 43 of the race’s 60 laps, including the last five when he cagily held off eventual runner-up Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford), the 2015 DAYTONA 500 champion, among others.
“We got another win at Daytona for the Earnhardts, so we added to the legacy,” Earnhardt said. “We’re up in the 50s now, with all the wins we have.
“Everyone knows how important it is to get the lead in [the qualifying races] and I knew how important it was to keep it.”
Thursday was important for another reason. It was the 15th anniversary of the death of the elder Earnhardt, after a last-lap accident in the DAYTONA 500.
“I was guilty of daydreaming a little bit about winning this race … because of the day,” Earnhardt said. “I try not to make a big deal of it.
“I was thinking about it … it’s really special.”
In the second Can-Am Duel event, Busch, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, led twice for 35 laps in the No. 18 M&M’s 75 Toyota.
Of the 40 drivers starting the DAYTONA 500, four were not guaranteed starting spots. Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto made the field based on their Can-Am Duel finishes. Michael McDowell and Robert Richardson made the race based on their original qualifying speeds.
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Also Thursday, two practice sessions for the NextEra Energy Resources 250 put NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers on-track for the first time this year. Timothy Peters, the 2010 winner of the NextEra Energy Resources 250, led the first session with a fast lap of 189.028 mph in the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota. The second session was led by Spencer Gallagher in the No. 23 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet, at 188.135.
Qualifying for the NextEra Energy Resources 250 will be held Friday at 4:30 p.m. The race will start at 7:30. Tyler Reddick is defending champion, driving the Brad Keselowski-owned No. 29 Cooper Standard Careers for Veterans Ford.
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Three practice sessions for Saturday’s PowerShares QQQ 300 will be held on Friday. The race opens the NASCAR XFINITY Series season. Qualifying is at 10 a.m. on Saturday followed by the race at 3:30.
Ryan Reed, driving for owner Jack Roush in the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes/American Diabetes Association Ford, is the defending champion.
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Tickets for all Speedweeks 2016 events – including the 58th annual DAYTONA 500 on Sunday, (infield and Sprint FANZONE only remaining) the season-opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – can be purchased on-line at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube for the latest speedway news throughout the season.