Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fl — February 16, 2023
Last year’s qualifying races for the Daytona 500 were run in a very conservative fashion. The new “next gen” car was a huge unknown, parts were in short supply, a lot of teams were struggling to assemble a back-up car in the event of a catastrophic wreck. Drivers needed to bring home their race car in one piece to have the best opportunity to win the Great American Race.
Throw that out the window this year. After a season of firsts the teams have had a chance to tune in the car. Most have a full stable of machines ready to go for the 2023 campaign. The Daytona 500 is such a big event, drivers will be looking to come away from tonight’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels with the best possible starting position for Sunday’s 65th running of NASCAR’s biggest race.
In other NASCAR news today Trackhouse racing announced they have signed Ross Chastain to a multi-year extension of his contract. In an emotional press conference with a large number of Chastain family members in attendance Ross commented. “It’s incredible to find a home here at Trackhouse, I always laugh that it’s Track-‘house’ and we’ve truly made it a home.”
The first of the duels will feature the pole sitter, Alex Bowman(48). His teammate, Kyle Larson(5), starts beside him on the front row. Two of Team Penske’s hot shoes will line up behind them in Ford Mustangs. Joey Logano(22) and Ryan Blaney(12) will tell us which manufacturer had the drafting advantage.
Race One also includes the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson(84), returning to competition after his two-year foray into IndyCar. Also Zane Smith(36) and Chandler Smith(13) will be fighting it out for one of the last two starting spots open to non-charter drivers. The one who finishes further back in the field will be packing up and heading home.
Michigan’s Erik Jones is in Race One, starting 14th. Right behind his new boss, Jimmie Johnson, who purchased a portion of the Petty GMS Motorsports team that has been rebranded Legacy Motor Club.
It was Blaney who led lap one. However, the push to the front came from Bubba Wallace(23) not Logano. Bowman quickly dropped to the rear complaining that the setup which provided him with the fastest lap yesterday was not conducive to race with. No worries for pole sitter, he is locked into the starting spot provided he does not damage his car in tonight’s race.
By Lap 12 the pack had disentergrated and 20 cars ran nose-to-tail. Lap 22 saw nine Chevrolets pit together. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) and Chandler Smith were too fast on pit road and had to return for a drive thru penalty. Both cars went a lap down in the process.
The lead pack with Blaney at the point ran down the bow tie contingent on Lap 30 when they pitted enmass. When they returned to the racetrack Joey Logano(22) held the lead with Kevin Harvick(4) in second. They were 10 seconds ahead of the group that pitted earlier pit stops settled out.
The results of Bluegreen Vacations Duel One will make up the inside row for Sunday’s 500. With 10 laps to go, the running order was four Mustangs at the front. Logano, Kevin Harvick(4), Blaney, and Chris Buescher(17). The interval between the lead pack and the group that pitted early remained consistent.
Single file racing went out the window on the final lap as everyone in the lead pack looked to make a move to take the win. Logano held off a charge from Christopher Bell(20) with a push from Logano. Ford took five of the first six positions which bodes well for the Blue Oval come Sunday.
Zane Smith raced his way into the 500 with an eight place finish. Chandler Smith finished 18th and will miss out on this year’s event. Erik Jones finished 12th and Jimmy Johnson 14th.
Zane Smith making the field wrote a new chapter in Daytona 500 history. As the defending Truck Series Champion he will join the defending Xfinity Series Champion, Ty Gibbs, and the defending Cup Series Champion, Joey Logano in the Great American Race. The first time all three of NASCAR’s premier series champions will compete together in NASCAR’s biggest event.
Results of the Bluegreen Vacations Duel One
|16||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||59|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Drivers on the bubble for the Bluegreen Vacations Duel Two are Austin Hill(62) and Conor Daly(50). Former Supercross champion, Travis Pastrana(67) is the non-charter driver already locked into the 500 based on his qualify time. All eyes will be on Pastrana, racing for Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s team 23XI, after he revealed if he wrecks his car he has to pay for it.
Kyle Larson(5) and Aric Almirola(10) are on the front row for the start of the second qualify race. They traded the top spot for several laps after the drop of the green. The caution flag waved on lap six for debris on the backstretch. The yellow was a big break for Daly, who lost contact with the pack after complaining of a suspension issue on lap one of the qualifier. The caution allowed him to come to pit road to the attention of his crew.
All but two cars pitted under the caution. One of the drivers staying out was Justin Haley(31) who was responsible for bringing out the caution. The window on the passenger side of his race car blew out and landed on the track. He pitted after his crew ran back to the garage to grab a spare. BJ McLeod(78) was the other driver who remained on the track, he pitted along with Haley.
On the restart, Larson led with Almirola second. But, Kyle Busch(8) and Daniel Suarez(99) joined the fight for the lead. Suarez pushed Busch to the front of the pack. Again Daly lost contact with the pack, placing his chance to make it into the 500 in severe jeopardy.
Pastrana seemed content to hang onto the rear of the lead group that dissolved into a single file train with the running order of Busch, Suarez, Larson, Almirola, and defending Daytona 500 Champion Austin Cindric(2) in fifth.
Crew chiefs are pulling their hair out trying to determine if they have enough fuel to finish another pit stop. Busch is burning the most fuel as the man at the point. Everyone else seems to stay in line in an effort to conserve gasoline.
The consensus is that Justin Haley, with the late stop to replace his window, “might” be able to stretch it to the finish. Denny Hamlin(11) and Chase Elliott(9) were trying to make up positions running on the high side of the track far back in the lineup.
Suarez got a little too aggressive with the push on Busch and turned him sideways on the backstretch on lap 40. Riley Herbst(15), Haley, Austin Hill(62), and Travis Pastrana were also involved.
The implications of the incident are significant. Pastrana’s wallet is going to be a little lighter, Hill missed a huge payday as his car retired to the garage and Daly will get the free pass into the 500. And fuel mileage went out the window as everyone now has enough gas to finish the 60 laps.
The incident and pit stops scrambled the field. However, it did not take long for the cream to rise to the top. With five laps to go Cindric led, followed by Almirola, Todd Gilliland(38), Larson, and Corey Lajoie(7).
Unlike the first race, this group did not wait until the last lap to start making moves. Swapping the lead between three drivers to the white flag, loose race cars bounced off each other. With one lap to go Todd Gilliland(38) was out front. He almost wrecked out of turn two.
Almirola grabbed the win as Ford Performance sweeps both qualifying races. Cindric took second and Elliott third. Brad Keselowski(6), who won a duel race last year, came in fourth with LaJoie in fifth.
|8||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0.635||60|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Starting Grid for the 65th Daytona 500
|16||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
|33||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|