Daytona 500 lineup set by Gatorade Duels
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Drivers hoping for starting spots in Sunday's Daytona 500 raced in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday.
Heading into 2011 Speed Weeks, Kurt Busch had never won any kind of race at a restrictor plate track. He continued to make up for lost time in the first duel race of the afternoon on Thursday by claiming his second win in a week, following up his victory in the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday.
"This is just an incredible Speed Weeks," Busch said.
Also with Busch's win Thursday came the unofficial pole for the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be recognized the official polesitter, but will fall to the back because of a wreck in practice on Wednesday. As a result, the inside line will move up, moving Busch into the front starting position.
Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth made up the pairing that led much of the way in the first duel, but lost the lead with just a handful of laps to go and ended up finishing third and fourth (Harvick -- third and Kenseth -- fourth). During their run, Kenseth seemed to figure out something many other competitors had yet to realize -- that the car in the pushing position of a two-car draft could, every now and then, dip down about half a lane to get air through the grille to keep temperatures down and negate the need for the two cars in said draft to switch positions every so often -- a move that costs precious time.
Busch was assisted to the win by Regan Smith, who finished second. Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five in the first duel. Also in the first duel, J.J. Yeley raced his way into the Daytona 500 with a 17th-place finish.
Despite not racing until the second duel, action from the first duel secured Michael Waltrip a Daytona 500 starting spot, by virtue of Bill Elliott. Elliott raced his way into the 500 in the first duel, so he didn't need to get in based on his qualifying speed from Sunday's pole qualifying session. Elliott racing his way in moved Waltrip up into a position where his qualifying speed from Sunday would be enough to get him into the Daytona 500, regardless of how he finished the second duel race.
Despite the guaranteed spot, Waltrip posted a strong third-place finish in the second duel race behind Richard Childress Racing teammates, duel two winner Jeff Burton and second-place finisher Clint Bowyer.
The two Richard Childress Racing teammates (Burton and Bowyer) worked together throughout the second duel to finish up the event in the first and second spots.
"Clint and I decided we were just going to find each other early, and it worked out well for the both of us," Burton said.
Despite having the advantage of watching the first duel to see what worked and what didn't, competition wise, the second duel turned out to be more chaotic, as five cautions plagued the second duel, as opposed to only two in the first. Some of those cautions in the second duel spelled early trips home for a couple of drivers.
After blowing an engine to bring out the first caution of the second duel on lap three, his second blown engine of Speed Weeks, Casey Mears waved goodbye to a Daytona 500 starting spot. Also, a crash ended the 2011 Daytona 500 hopes of Todd Bodine. Other drivers competing in Thursday's duel races who won't be in the Daytona 500 on Sunday include Derrike Cope, Michael McDowell and Kevin Conway.
The feel-good story coming out of Thursday's Gatorade Duels was the teamwork of brothers Brad and Brian Keselowski in the second duel. Younger brother Brad, who was already guaranteed a 500 starting spot by virtue of 2010 owner points, spun late in the race, putting him pretty far back in the field for the restart. It was in the back where he found his older brother Brian, driving a family-owned, under-funded entry. Together the two drafted toward the front, and scored a fifth-place finish for Brian -- just ahead of fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch -- and a seventh-place finish for Brad. With the top-five finish, Brian got himself into the Daytona 500.
Here is how the first five rows look for the start of the Daytona 500:
row one: Dale Eanrhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon
row two: Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton
row three: Regan Smith, Clint Bowyer
row four: Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip
row five: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch
Live television coverage for Sunday's Daytona 500 is slated for a noon ET start on FOX.