DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With a major assist from Ford stablemate Aric Almirola, Joey Logano powered to victory in the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Thursday night.
After a back-and-forth second half of the 150-mile event, Logano and Almirola hooked up in tandem at the white flag and raced away from the snarling pack behind them at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
From there, though the duo got separated halfway down the backstretch, Logano was able to keep the hounds at bay over the final mile of asphalt to notch his second-straight Duel victory and the fifth overall Duel win for Team Penske.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. paced the first 22 laps from the pole position and 28 of the 60 laps overall, but Logano led 19 laps in his own right, including the most important one.
In victory lane, the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion gave plenty of kudos to Almirola for pushing him on the final lap, but Logano also lauded spotter T.J. Majors for an exemplary call down the stretch.
“This feels so good,” said Logano. “Obviously it’s the Duels and not the Daytona 500, but momentum is momentum. T.J. does such a good job up on the roof with understanding the draft, so that was a huge help. Working with this new group, they’ve been together a while, but I’m new with them and it’s been a great partnership so far and pretty seamless.
“We worked out some of the kinks last week, and to be able to come to victory lane at Daytona is a big deal. We’re ready to go for the 500 now,” Logano added. “Can’t thank Ford enough, can’t thank Aric Almirola enough. What a great push he gave me throughout the final run. It was awesome.”
While Almirola was glad to help a fellow Blue Oval to victory lane on Thursday night, he was quick to note that he would much rather be the one getting the push come lap 200 on Sunday afternoon.
“I hope I don’t get an assist on Sunday; I think things will play out a little differently in that one,” Almirola noted. “It was a solid night for all the Fords. I was really committed to Joey; our cars lined up really well together. We were making a lot of hay when we would get attached.
“It was fun and man, our Smithfield Ford Mustang is so fast,” he continued. “I’m glad we didn’t wreck this one and we get to take it to the Daytona 500, because it’s a really good race car.”
Logano beat Almirola to the checkered flag by .172 seconds.
Behind that duo was another pair of Fords in Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, with Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bubba Wallace completing the top five in a Chevrolet.
Past Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon crossed sixth, just ahead of Martin Truex Jr., the best among the Toyota contingent.
Stenhouse finished eighth after leading at the white flag, with rookie Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher filling out the top 10.
Justin Haley, who had already locked into the Daytona 500 on time from last Sunday’s qualifying session, led the four Open drivers in the field with a 17th-place finish.
Because of Haley’s efforts, Reed Sorenson was able to fall back on his qualifying time and will race in Sunday’s 62nd annual Daytona 500 for Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports squad.
Sorenson’s jubilation came at the expense of Mexico’s Daniel Suarez, who was aiming to make the Daytona 500 for the fourth time, but was involved in a lap-30 crash with Ryan Blaney as the eight Fords in the field were trying to make their way to pit road for green-flag pit stops.
As a result of the crash, Suarez’s No. 96 Toyota Camry was eliminated with heavy front-end damage, squelching any hope the 28-year-old had of racing his way into The Great American Race.
That incident was the lone caution period in the first Duel, which featured a lightning-quick average pace of 166.070 mph and took just 54 minutes and seven seconds on the stopwatch to complete.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.