In Thursday night’s Can-Am Duels at Daytona, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin each earned historic wins in the events which set the field for Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500.
Chase Elliott, who won the Daytona 500 pole on Sunday, won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, albeit an unofficial one, in the first Duel, leading 25 of the race’s 60 laps.
Elliott joins some elite company with the win, as he became the first Daytona 500 pole sitter to win a Duel since Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1996. He is the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1993 to make a Duel win his first win in a Cup Series car.
And while the win is unofficial, the Duels did award championship points for the first time since 1971, with the top 10 earning points (10 for first, nine for second, etc.). The last drivers before Elliott (and Hamlin in Duel 2) to earn points for a Duel victory were David Pearson and Pete Hamilton.
As a result, Elliott and Hamlin will enter the Daytona 500 as co-points leaders. The last time anyone led the standings before the Daytona 500 was in 1981, in the era when a race was run at Riverside, Calif. in January, was Bobby Allison.
Winning the Daytona 500 pole and a Duel will give Elliott an opportunity to win the rare “Daytona triple crown” of the pole, a Duel, and the Daytona 500. If he can win Sunday, Elliott would be the first to accomplish the feat since… his father, Bill Elliott, in 1985. Fireball Roberts in 1962 and Cale Yarborough in 1984 are the only others to pull off the rare triple.
Elliott earned the win by outdueling a star-studded top seven–every driver in the top six (Jamie McMurray finished second, Kevin Harvick third, Brad Keselowski fourth, Matt Kenseth fifth, and Trevor Bayne sixth) has either won the Daytona 500 or the series championship, and seventh-place Martin Truex Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500 last year.
Denny Hamlin, the 2016 Daytona 500 champion, passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with two laps to go en route to his third career Duel win.
Hamlin won the race with very little help, as his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were in the first Duel, and only three fellow Toyotas were in the field, with none finishing higher than 15th.
Hamlin also bested the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords of Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, who finished second, third and sixth, as well as four cars in the top 10 from Richard Childress Racing and their allied teams, led by A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Dillon in fourth and fifth.
Earnhardt Jr., who had won Duels the last two years and led 53 of the 60 laps in his first competition since July, was unable to block Hamlin’s run entering turn three on the penultimate lap, and faded to a sixth place finish, though he will start second in the Daytona 500 after earning that spot in pole qualifying.
Hamlin becomes the 10th driver to win a Duel as the defending Daytona 500 champion, and seven of the previous nine have each won multiple Daytona 500s (and one of the other two is Dale Earnhardt): Pete Hamilton (1971), Cale Yarborough (1984, 1985), Bill Elliott (1986), Sterling Marlin (1995), Dale Jarrett (1997), Dale Earnhardt Sr. (1999), Michael Waltrip (2002), Jeff Gordon (2006), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2015).
News and Notes
Corey LaJoie (Duel 1) and D.J. Kennington (Duel 2) each raced their way into their first Daytona 500 in Thursday’s Duels. LaJoie is the son of former NASCAR XFinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, while Kennington is the first Canadian to make the Daytona 500 field since Trevor Boys in 1988. Kennington will start 28th and LaJoie will start 31st, while Timmy Hill and Reed Sorenson failed to qualify.
Another feel-good story from the Duels is Cole Whitt, who drove to a 10th-place finish in Duel 1, and will start 17th on Sunday. Whitt, driving a #72 TriStar Motorsports Ford that resembles Benny Parsons’ cars from the 1970s, earned one championship point, and sits tied for 19th in the standings entering the Daytona 500 (he was briefly 10th in points before Duel 2). The 25-year-old Whitt, who has run the Cup Series full-time since 2014, has never finished higher than 31st in the season standings, although he did finish 11th in the Coke Zero 400 last July at Daytona.
UPDATE: With Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger failing post-race inspection (see below), Whitt is tied for 17th in points.
Michael Waltrip finished 17th in the 21-car field of Duel 2, and will start 3oth on Sunday. The FOX Sports analyst and two-time Daytona 500 winner (2001, 2003) has announced he will retire from NASCAR after Sunday’s race, when he will run an “Aaron’s Dream Machine” with the car number 15, the number he drove in his pair of 500 victories.
None of the strong rookie class of Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones will start the Daytona 500 near the front. Suarez, the 2015 XFinity Series champion, finished 11th in Duel 1 and will start 19th. Dillon finished 10th in Duel 2, and will start 18th, while Jones picked up damage in Duel 2 and finished 19th, and will start 34th on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher each failed post-race inspection after their respective duels. All three will start at the rear in the Daytona 500, while Truex and Allmendinger will lose the points they earned in their Duels.
Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard will race backup cars in the Daytona 500 after damage sustained in the Duels, and will start at the rear of the field.
Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Row 2: Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin
Row 3: Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer
Row 4: Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch
Row 5: Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon
Row 6: Trevor Bayne, Danica Patrick
Row 7: Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman
Row 8: Joey Logano, Kyle Larson
Row 9: Cole Whitt, Ty Dillon
Row 10: Daniel Suarez, David Ragan
Row 11: Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell
Row 12: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson
Row 13: Matt DiBenedetto, Kasey Kahne
Row 14: Landon Cassill, D.J. Kennington
Row 15: Joey Gase, Michael Waltrip
Row 16: Corey LaJoie, Jeffrey Earnhardt
Row 17: Paul Menard, Erik Jones
Row 18: Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney
Row 19: Chris Buescher, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 20: Brendan Gaughan, Elliott Sadler
Failed to qualify: Timmy Hill, Reed Sorenson