Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin won the Can-Am Duel races on Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway, as the starting grid for Sunday’s 59th annual DAYTONA 500 was established by the two 150-mile qualifying events.
For the first time since 1971, drivers in the Can-Am Duel earned Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship points for their efforts – the top-10 finishers in each race, to be exact. Drivers responded to that new situation by staging all-out battles in both 60-lappers. There was no indication of drivers playing it safe and looking ahead to the DAYTONA 500.
That flat-out mindset was personified by Elliott in the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. He started on the pole of the first Can-Am Duel race after posting the fastest speed last Sunday during DAYTONA 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger – which also locked him into the pole position for the DAYTONA 500. Elliott led a total of 25 laps including the last 24 in dominating style.
“It was a great way to start the season,” Elliott said. “I know this is just a Duel win and obviously I wish this was Sunday … but it still means a lot to me and it means a lot to our team.
“We had some big steam under the hood which was a huge factor in keeping us out front. I’m glad we were able to race and stay aggressive and battle those guys. Hopefully we can dial it in a little better on Sunday and give it another shot.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet, had the pole for the second Can-Am Duel race after qualifying second behind Elliott last Sunday – which locked him into the DAYTONA 500 outside pole. Earnhardt led 53 of 60 laps but was passed by Hamlin in Turn 3 on Lap 59 and came home sixth. Hamlin got invaluable drafting help from a trailing Austin Dillon, using the momentum to zip by Earnhardt on the outside.
Hamlin – the defending DAYTONA 500 champion – will start the No. 11 FedEx Toyota behind Earnhardt on Sunday in the fourth position, thanks to his Can-Am Duel victory.
“We had a great car and we got a great push from Austin,” Hamlin said. “[Earnhardt] thought I was going one way and I went the other. I’m not sure what this means or what this says [about our DAYTONA 500 chances] but overall, pretty happy with the result.”
Two drivers from each Can-Am Duel race – part of a group of six “Open” entries who came to Speedweeks without guaranteed spots in the DAYTONA 500 field – “raced their way” into the big show via their Duel race result. (Thirty-six drivers were guaranteed spots via their status as NASCAR “Charter” entries.) From the first Can-Am Duel race, it was Corey LaJoie; from the second race, it was DJ Kennington.
Friday night at 7:30, the NextEra Energy Resources 250 will open the season for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Qualifying for the event will be at 4:30 p.m. There was one practice session for the trucks on Thursday, with rookie Chase Briscoe posting the fastest lap – 192.980 mph – in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford – owned by Brad Keselowski Racing.
Also Friday, two practice sessions will be held for both the DAYTONA 500 and the 59th annual PowerShares QQQ 300, Saturday’s season-opening race for the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
Tickets for the 59th annual DAYTONA 500 and other Speedweeks events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.