After taking the lead with 17 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would not look back as he scored the victory in the first Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway.
“We’ve had a great car all week and I’m so glad to have gotten through the Duel in one piece because I know how good this car is,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “We have a couple practices to go through, but if we can get through in one piece – then we’re going to have fun on Sunday. We had do a lot of blocking there to keep the lead, but having such a good car gave us the ability. Got to give a lot of credit to TJ Majors for making the calls to allow me to make the moves.”
The victory gives Earnhardt Jr. a third place starting spot for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Earnhardt Jr. had to start the rear of the field due to failing post-Daytona 500 qualifying inspection.
Jeff Gordon, who locked up the pole via qualifying last weekend, would finish second in the Budweiser Duel. Joey Logano finished third, followed by Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. Bowyer is in a back-up car following a crash in qualifying on Sunday.
“It’s definitely a breath of fresh air,” he commented. “If it wasn’t for adversity, how do you have any fun in life? The good thing is our Toyota was really strong when it came to go. I felt like I was amongst cars that I’d have to beat in the 500. Certainly we’ll need to make some adjustments and get it ready to go.”
Kevin Harvick would finish sixth, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Landon Cassill and Cole Whitt For Whitt and Cassill, it was a relief to finish in the top 10 to lock themselves into the field.
“It’s amazing,” Cassill shared. “I’m extremely proud to be here for my team as they worked hard on this car. I felt before this race, the biggest thing I had to do was put myself in position to get in.”
“I can tell you that I will sleep a lot better tonight than I have the past couple of nights,” Whitt commented. “Can’t say enough about these guys. We’ve worked hard the past couple of nights. I’m so excited that we were able to get in and start it off like this.”
Paul Menard finished 11th, followed by Michael McDowell, JJ Yeley, Michael Annett, Kyle Larson and Ty Dillon. Yeley thought that he was in trouble when his window net came down mid-run.
“We usually tape the latch and it started fluttering,” Yeley said. “So I grabbed a hold of it and tried to keep it up. I dropped out of the field just hoping for a caution. With the wreck, I was able t get down, fix it and get in.”
“It means so much,” Dillon commented. “It’s hard to explain. I’ve been coming here since I was little kid watching my grandfather’s cars race and win, and it feels so great to be in this race.”
“Unbelievable coming to the white flag we were out….and just had a great run and everything went out way,” McDowell said. “We are in the Daytona 500. This is awesome! This is a group effort, but man that was an intense last lap.”
Matt Kenseth would lead the first half of the event, but would finish 17th, followed by Justin Marks, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola and Ron Hornaday. Unfortunately, for both Marks and Hornaday, they will miss the Great American race.
The short race would not go without incident as on lap 17, Casey Mears would blow the motor due to a hole in the oil pan. Then on lap 28, Johnny Sauter would get turned out of line and go for a ride through the infield grass as a result of tight racing with A.J. Allmendinger and Almirola. Sauter and Allmendinger would be done for the day with damage.
“First of all, I’m disappointed that we wrecked,” Sauter shared. “Just riding along, trying to mind our own business and I think the 47 (Allmendinger) just got us in the left rear quarter panel. Just a bummer. We were on a catch 22 deal in do we rely on our speed, or try and get into the top 14. Just a bummer deal.”
Just disappointed,” Allmendinger commented. “The Chevy was fast. It was fun running up front. Probably moved up a little bit and got the 83 (Sauter)– and if I did, it’s my fault. It’s just tough trying o get out of the middle. It just sucks. I hate this racing, I really do. if we can get into the 500, we’ll have a good car. Just trying to get out of the middle. Didn’t need to be there that soon.”
The final caution would fly with nine laps to go when Bayne’s No. 6 Ford would step out on him, brushing against Kyle Larson and then up the track and back down.