Duel Sweep Makes JGR The Favorites

Clint Bowyer gets upside down during the last-lap crash in Budweiser Duel No. 2 Thursday at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (NASCAR Photo)
Clint Bowyer gets upside down during the last-lap crash in Budweiser Duel No. 2 Thursday at Daytona Int’l Speedway. (NASCAR Photo)

Casey Mears, who had to pit on the final lap because his car was out of fuel, was able to make it into the field by being on pit road and missing the big wreck. Landon Cassill was last driver to transfer into the field based on his ninth-place finish in the race. Terry Labonte and Trevor Bayne also advanced to the Daytona 500 from Duel 2.

In the first race, Kenseth defeated Kevin Harvick by .022 of a seconds – about one and a half feet – in a three-wide finish that also included Kasey Kahne in an impressive finish to Thursday night’s first Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying race for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Harvick’s Chevrolet, however, failed post-race technical inspection when NASCAR officials found the track bar exceeded the maximum split (3-inches of adjustment). That means his finishing position from Thursday will be disallowed and he will have to make it into the field through qualification times posted in last Sunday’s time trials or the car owner points that belonged to Ryan Newman last year when he was the driver at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Among the drivers that raced their way into the Daytona 500 field in the first Duel were Josh Wise, Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman. Bowman finished 15th, the final automatic transfer spot into the Daytona 500.

Harvick’s Chevrolet had nudged ahead of Kenseth’s Toyota coming out of the fourth turn but Kenseth went to the outside nearly brushing the SAFER Barrier to make the race-winning pass at the checkered flag.

“I had a strong Toyota Camry and Kevin is one of the best,” Kenseth said. “He made the perfect move but I was able to get him at the line. This is a great way to start off 2014. I’m glad to get the win here tonight. These guys really deserve it.”

Harvick thought he had timed his move perfectly but it may have been too soon.

“I had the momentum and when those guys got to me and were jammed up I had to make the move,” Harvick said. “We tried to side-draft and then we nearly both lost it because I saw the 5 (Kahne) come up alongside.”

All 60 laps in the race were contested under green flag conditions, which meant the one pit stop in the race would be very important.

The five drivers that did not make the Daytona 500 are Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek, Eric McClure, Michael McDowell and Morgan Shepherd.

After leading 86 laps in last year’s Daytona 500 Kenseth has once again placed himself in position to be a leading candidate to win on Sunday.

“The race ended up unfolding great for us,” Kenseth said. “We learned a lot in the race. I had the car in some positions that I wouldn’t want to do again if I had to do it over. I was able to make some moves, get up to second behind Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) there for a long time, and ultimately take the lead. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) had a great call on a great pit stop. I was able to hold the lead.

“At the end, I saw Kevin making that move. You weren’t going to be able to block it without wrecking. I just tried to get back to him and thankfully I had enough time to get that run to the finish line.”

While Joe Gibbs didn’t want to talk about the long Daytona 500 drought, it was his son, J.D. that brought it up after Kenseth’s win.

“It’s been so long since we won the 500, I think it was ’93, so we’re due a few,” said J.D. Gibbs, the team president. “Hopefully we can get that accomplished. We just have a great team. Matt, Jason, the whole team just kind of gets it. They’re hard workers. They’re really fun to be with.

“It’s been a long time. We’ve got some good cars, but it’s just really hard to do. Stuff outside your control has to fall together.

“I hope we have a shot, but it’s hard to do.”