Keselowski Posts 3rd Fastest Qualifying Time, with Boyer 4th Quickest
Preliminary events leading up to next Sunday’s Daytona 500 kicked off action at the World Center of Racing with encouraging results for the Ford Teams. Qualifying practice on Saturday the 19th saw Ford teams put up four of the five fastest times recorded during the four-hour session. Joey Logano’s hot lap of 193.116 mph topped the leader board followed by Aric Almirola in 2nd, Brad Keselowski 3rd, and the Wood Brothers Fusion of Ryan Blaney 5th. Anticipation was high as the teams prepared for the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Saturday night; fans were anxious to see if the single car speeds translated to being fast in the draft. Mother Nature failed to cooperate as the evening race fell victim to a rainstorm that hit just as pre-race activities were concluding.
Rescheduling the Clash to Sunday morning, in advance of pole qualifying, gave both fans and crew chiefs an opportunity to see how the 17-car field would perform during daylight conditions similar to those expected for the 500 next week. As usual, on restrictor plate tracks, pack racing was the order of the day. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were involved in an early lap incident as Johnson’s car got loose coming out of turn four, tapped the left rear quarter panel of Busch’s car sending the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford into the outside wall. Johnson’s car sustained minor damage and was able to continue until lap 49 when he lost control, again while exiting turn four, and spun off the track hitting the inside wall just before the entry to pit road. With 14 laps to go Martin Truex Jr. made an aggressive move dropping to the favored bottom groove and got tapped by Kyle Larson, Truex’s spinning car collected Chris Buescher. The resulting caution set up a 11-lap sprint to the finish. The four Joe Gibbs Racing cars lined up at the front of the field with Denny Hamlin leading, followed by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Daniel Suarez in second. Suarez was filling in for the retired Carl Edwards in the number 19 Gibbs entry.
When the green flag dropped, the Team Penske Fords of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were mired in the middle of the pack. With four laps to go Keselowski and Logano were nose-to-tail and making their move to the front where they managed to break up the tight draft of the Gibbs cars. As the white flag waved Denny Hamlin, who had led 48 of the 75 laps, moved up the track slightly to guard against. Keselowski, in second, from passing on the high side. Keselowski was determined to lead the final lap, but his drafting partner Logano lagged in 5th place. Making a bid for the lead, Keselowski dropped low and got a fender under Hamlin who responded by making contact with the number 2 car. Anticipating a pile-up, Logano drove high, passed the tangle of cars trying to avoid a wreck, and took the lead and ultimately the win. Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman drove through the melee to take 2nd and 3rd. Danica Patrick sprinted from 10th to 4th, Kevin Harvick wound up 5th, and Keselowski recovered to take 6th giving Ford four of the top 6 spots at the finish. Hamlin, who did spin-out, finished 13th.
Daytona 500 pole qualifying was conducted in 2 rounds. Round one narrowed the field to the fastest 12 cars with Keselowski, Harvick, and Clint Bowyer, piloting the number 14 of Tony Stewart, left to represent the Blue Oval contingent. After round two Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat on the front row, it was Elliott’s 2nd pole in a row for the Great American Race. Keselowski placed 3rd, Bowyer 4th, and Harvick 7th. Logano qualified a disappointing 16th with notable Ford drivers Ryan Blaney 19th, Trevor Bayne 20th, Kurt Busch 22nd, Danica Patrick 24th and Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola 25th.
The Can-Am Duels, to determine the remainder of the 40-car Daytona 500 field, are set to run on Thursday evening, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is Friday night and the NASCAR XFINITY Series is scheduled for 3:30pm on Saturday. The 59th running of the Daytona 500 drops the green flag shortly after 2:30pm on Sunday.