DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The race to secure the final starting spots in the 61st annual Daytona 500 will commence Thursday night, under the lights at Daytona Int’l Speedway, with the running of the Gander RV Duels at Daytona.
The pair of 60-lap, 150-mile qualifying races serve a dual purpose. Not only do they decide the final two open cars that will lock into Sunday’s Daytona 500 starting field, but they also set the starting grid for the Great American Race for all other cars behind the front row, which was set last Sunday in qualifying.
The order of finish in each Duel will set the starting grid for the inside and outside rows. Duel No. 1 will set the inside row and Duel No. 2 will determine the outside row. Meanwhile, the top finishing open driver from each Duel will also make the field for the 500 as well.
Daytona 500 polesitter William Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Alex Bowman, earned the top-two starting spots in Sunday’s field by virtue of their qualifying times. As such, they will lead their respective fields to green Thursday night when the two Duels take the green flag.
In fact, both Duel races will feature an all-Hendrick Motorsports front row, with Byron and Jimmie Johnson lining up alongside one another in the first Duel. That race will hit the track just after 7 p.m.
Four rookies are featured in the first Duel lineup, but arguably the most impressive of those so far during Speedweeks has been Daniel Hemric, who starts third in Duel No. 1 for Richard Childress Racing.
The other rookies in the first Duel are Ryan Preece (starts 15th), Matt Tifft (18th) and Cody Ware (21st).
Three-time Duel winner Kyle Busch grids up seventh for the first Duel, while reigning Duel No. 1 winner Ryan Blaney actually landed in the field for the second Duel this year due to the way that the qualifying times were split between the two Duels.
Among the open drivers in the first Duel is Tyler Reddick, who has already locked into the Daytona 500 thanks to his qualifying speed, while longtime friends Parker Kligerman and Ryan Truex are the two drivers racing for the second available spot out of the first Duel.
Should Reddick be the driver to race his way into the Daytona 500, Truex would then make the race as the next-highest qualifier from last Sunday’s time trial session.
Looking at the field for the second Duel, Bowman and two-time defending Duel winner Chase Elliott will start on the front row. Elliott won the first Duel in 2017 and topped the second Duel a year ago.
Behind them are a pair of potent Ford entries, with last year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano lining up alongside Clint Bowyer. Neither one has ever won a Daytona 500 qualifying race in their Cup Series careers.
Blaney starts from eighth in his attempt to win his Duel for the second consecutive year.
The stacked field for the second Duel features five former Daytona 500 champions: Logano (2015), defending winner Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin (2016), Kurt Busch (2017) and Jamie McMurray (2010).
Casey Mears is the open driver in Duel No. 2 who is locked into the Daytona 500 regardless of the outcome based on his qualifying speed, but should he race his way in, either Truex or Brendan Gaughan would be in position to advance into the Great American Race on their respective speeds from Sunday.
Should both locked-in drivers – Reddick and Mears – race into the Daytona 500 through the Duels, then both Truex and Gaughan would make the race as the two fastest qualifiers not already in the show.
In contrast, Kligerman and Joey Gase are the two drivers whose only hope of making the field is racing their way in on Thursday night.
Both Duels will have live television coverage on FOX Sports 1. They’ll also air on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
To view the complete starting lineups for both Duels at Daytona, advance to the next page.