Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 17, 2022
Racing begins for real tonight at Daytona International Speedway as the field for the 64th annual Daytona 500 is set. The results of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels will determine where drivers line up for the Great American Race on Sunday afternoon.
What We Know for Sure
The 36 teams that own a NASCAR Charter are guaranteed a spot in the 500. That leaves just four spots for independent teams to try and qualify. Two of those spots were locked up last night in single-car qualifying as Xfinity regular Noah Gragson(62) and 50-year old former Formula One Champion Jacques Villeneuve(27) locked down starting positions based on their qualifying times.
Kaz Grala(50), Greg Biffle(44), JJ Yeley(55), and Timmy Hill(66) will vie for the two remaining entries.
Regardless of what the results are tonight Kyle Larson(5) will start on the pole with his teammate Alex Bowman(48) beside him on row one. They locked up their starting spots last night by posting the two fastest times of the 42 drivers trying to make the race. In Media Day interviews the remainder of the field essentially conceded the top spots to Hendrix Motorsports. They purposely set their cars up to compete for the fastest speed. While everyone else works on race day setups. Or so they claim.
After the first round of qualifying the four drivers from the Hendrix stable held the top four positions. Ten drivers were allowed to make another qualifying run to earn the front row positions. Ford Mustang driver, Aric Almirola(10), broke up the quartet posting the fourth-fastest time, and will start on the front row of Duel Two next to Bowman.
What We Expect Tonight
Again, according to the driver’s comments, everyone is looking to keep their race car clean for the 500. The introduction of the new Next-Gen car and parts shortages have caused delays in building a fleet of these new race machines. Many teams admitted they did not bring a backup car to the track this weekend. If they cannot repair any damage incurred in a mishap during the duels, it is going to be a long ride back to Charlotte to get a replacement.
On the flip side of that sentiment, four drivers are racing for one of two spots left in the 500 starting field. This is also the first time the Next-Gen car has been on a high-speed track in race conditions. And, as we saw in the Clash at the Coliseum, tempers grow short when the bumping starts. We do expect the racing to be tight, this is what NASCAR promised when they went through the processes to develop this new car.
Each Duel is set for 60 laps which is equivalent to 150 miles around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. A pit stop for fuel will be required to complete the distance.
Kaz Grala was sent to the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments on his race car. It will be interesting to see if the new car is nimble enough in the draft to move through the pack. It took six laps for the lead pack to sort out into a single file line with the Hendrix cars of Larson, William Byron(24), and Chase Elliott(9) running one, two, three.
Gragson, already in on speed, was content to drop to the rear and just ride around well out of trouble. After losing the draft, Gragson was a half-lap down at the 10-Lap mark. A 13-car train made up the lead pack with five cars running in a group two seconds back that included Grala. Another 10 seconds back, JJ Yeley had lost contact with the leaders.
With everyone afraid to step out of line for fear of being booted to the back of the pack, some separation began to occur with the fastest drivers closing ranks at the front. Grala lost contact with his group of cars as they broke away and tracked down the leaders.
Yeley, running with BJ McLeod, steadily closed on Grala, adding some drama to the event. It could easily come down to which driver executes his pit stop better. A large group of drivers came to pit road on Lap 35. The remainder of the pack pitted one lap later.
Grala could have lost his shot at making the 500, he was too fast exiting pit road and was forced to serve a penalty by coming back down the lonely strip of asphalt at pit road speed. When all stops cycled through Ryan Blaney(12) was the new leader. Yeley sat one lap down, and Grala was two laps in arrears as he lost another lap serving his speeding penalty.
A four-car breakaway, all Ford Mustangs, Blaney, Brad Keselowski(6), Chase Briscoe(14), and Austin Cindric(2) looked to decide the race among themselves. Keselowski, with a push from Briscoe, took the lead with four laps to go. Blaney recovered the second spot using lapped cars as a pick to get past Briscoe. But Keselowski pulled away as the other Fords split three-wide trying to claim the second spot.
While the race for the top four spots was going on, the pack lapped JJ Yeley and Kaz Grala was able to speed by and claim the single qualifying spot still open for this race. Grala’s team owner is a celebrity in his own right, Floyd Mayweather Jr. who formed Money Team Racing partnering with Willy Auchmoody from the now-defunct StarCom Racing organization.
Yeley, unfortunately, will pack up and head home as he is out of the biggest race of the year.
Results of Duel One
|12||24||William Byron Jr.||27.736||60|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
It is a good thing Villeneuve already has a position in the 500 locked up. He spent the warm-up laps on pit road as his crew attended to an engine that would not fire. Much like Duel One, the cars ran side-by-side only this time Bowman was in a real battle with Joey Logano(22) swapping the lead over the opening laps. Villeneuve joined the field but lost the lead lap early, his crew reported a problem with the accelerator cable.
Surprisingly, Aric Almirola lost contact with the draft after getting booted to the top of the track and falling to the rear of the pack. Proving if you make a mistake, the results can be costly.
This race displayed more of the parity that was expected, as the lead pack ran two-wide for 20 laps before falling into line after multiple cars took a turn at the front. The parity seems to yield, somewhat to the Blue Oval, as five of the top six cars in line were Ford Mustangs.
Pit Stops began on Lap 26, Denny Hamlin(11) locked up the brakes entering pit road and spun into the grass of the tri-oval. No damage done, but well off the pace once he got back on the track.
The Ford contingent, led by Keselowski’s teammate Chris Buescher(17), caught the early pit stop cars on Lap 32 and then promptly pitted as a group. Logano was the new leader when pit stops cycled through, followed by the Fords of Buescher, last year’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell(34), Harrison Burton(21), and Kevin Harvick(4) all in Mustangs.
In the race for the final spot in the 500, Greg Biffle ran at the rear of the lead lap, while Timmy Hill was three laps down.
With 10 laps to go, Logano maintained the lead in a four-car breakaway. While Kyle Busch(18) led the chase pack nine seconds back. As the laps wound down, the interval between the top four and their pursuers grew. The only thing left to see was if the three guys on Logano’s tail can get together and make a move past the leader.
On the final lap, Buescher dropped low to make the pass, and Logano dropped down to block. The two collided and Logano got loose, McDowell avoided them both but a tap from Burton sent the #22 car into a spin. The caution displayed with Buescher just ahead of McDowell to make it a sweep for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
Veteran Greg Biffle will race in his 15th Daytona 500, while Timmy Hill heads home. Team Penske will be busy over the next couple of days determining whether Logano’s Ford is repairable and helping the Wood Brothers get their race car back on the track. Penske was one organization that brought backup cars with them, but only two were on the trailers. So is it fix or repair.
Results of Duel Two
|6||19||Martin Truex Jr.||22.740||60|
|8||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||28.291||60|
*Ford Mustang Drivers