(photo courtesy Brian Lawdemilk)
Today actually launched the beginning of the race to get into the race. That is, in fact, what the Gatorade Duels are. Even though the drivers qualified last Sunday, there was only two drivers that received guaranteed slots for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Those two drivers were Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, the two fastest qualifiers from Sunday. The rest of the qualifiers basically had to race their way into the 2012 Daytona 500 via the Gatorade Duels today.
Duel race number one was for the cars that qualified in the odd numbers positions, 1, 3, 5, 7, etc,.
With all the rule changes that have been put into place in the off-season, the first race was very exciting with a combination of two car tangos, and the pack racing of old.
Thursday’s victory was Stewart’s first with crew chief Steve Addington, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing during the offseason. On Sunday, they’ll attempt to claim the one prize that has eluded the three-time Cup champion — a victory in the Great American Race.
“Obviously the fact that we’ve won 17 times here and not won on the right day is proof it’s good momentum, but it’s no guarantee,” Stewart said after the race. “It’s nice to come here, especially for Steve and I, being our first race together, to be able to come out and have two really good strong and solid races back-to-back [including a second-place run in last Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout].
“It’s good momentum for the crew, everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, to carry that momentum from last year. It gives you confidence going into Sunday — It’s a long race on Sunday, and a lot can happen.
“I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. That’s a really strong point, just like Trevor Bayne showed last year he had a strong car, so people wanted to go with him. Hopefully that will work for us on Sunday, too.”
The caution flew after Stewart had led the field to the white flag, with race runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. in hot pursuit. Contact from Aric Almirola’s Ford launched Patrick’s Chevrolet toward the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch, and impact with the wall was hard enough to lift all four wheels of Patrick’s car off the pavement. Danica will race in the Daytona 500 via some back-room dealings to purchase the 2011 points from the Tommy Baldwin Racing #36 team. However, due her wreck on the last lap of the #1 Duel, Patrick will start at the back of the starting field.
Kenseth got a huge push from Jimmie Johnson in the outside lane, as the duo approached the start/finish line to take the white flag in the second Duel. Biffle, who held the lead at that point, moved up the track to block Kenseth, but Kenseth and Johnson dived to the inside and used their momentum to clear Biffle.
“With that push, it would never have gotten done,” Kenseth said. “Greg lost his drafting partner. We were able to separate him and the No. 78 [Smith], and we had such a huge run that Greg was kind of a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie’s push that we were able to make it past.”
So race fans, today at the track the weather was hot, and the racing was hotter! Tomorrow the Camping World Trucks get their 2012 season underway with the NextEra Energy Resources 250 Friday night at Daytona. That race is at night, and always provides some of the best racing during Daytona Speedweeks.