DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Joey Logano and Aric Almirola won their respective Bluegreen Vacation Duel qualifying races Thursday night, prevailing in two dramatic finishes while the rest of the 40-car field was set for the Daytona 500 field. The night started with a photo finish in Duel 1 and then ended with a dramatic turn of events followed by another wild finish in Duel 2.
After pit strategy set the running order in Duel 1, Logano fended off a jailbreak on the final lap, resisting an outward move by Christopher Bell and pushing him back to the start/finish line in a photo finish. The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2015 Daytona 500 champion will start Sunday in third place.
Last year, Logano cost himself an opportunity to win his duel when a poorly timed block against Chris Buescher sent him into the wall and out of contention. This time Logano stayed disciplined and held his line, allowing him to receive a jab for the checkered flag from Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney.
“I was hoping that they would start racing there, which they did, which ended up working for me,” Logano told Fox Sports. “And then when the 20 got to me, I saw that Blaney was behind me. I said, ‘That’s my buddy. I have to stay with him.’ I knew the 20 was going to run out and I probably wouldn’t be able to defend that, and just waited for the 12 to push me through there.
“Good performance from Penske to get a Duels win. Much better than last year, so happy to have a good start to the season here.”
The outcome of the battle between the non-chartered Open cars for the Daytona 500 was fairly straightforward in Duel 1, as a pit lane penalty cost NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Chandler Smith a chance to qualify. Zane Smith, the defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, qualified eighth for his first Daytona 500.
“Just so proud of everyone … I don’t know what life is,” Smith told Fox Sports. “I had Jimmie Johnson parked behind me. I’ve watched him grow up all my life and he’s still my idol. Just amazing to be part of The Great American Race.”
Duel 1 results
Later, Duel 2 was turned on its head when Kyle Busch was thrown off the lead on the backstretch, setting off a seven-car crash that collected Austin Hill, who was in position to easily qualify for Sunday’s Great American Race to qualify. The accident caused irreparable damage to Hill’s car and he was unable to draw on his qualifying time after his Open teammate Travis Pastrana was also involved.
Conor Daly, a lap back and off the pace with mechanical gremlins, was the last survivor and incredibly successful in making it to the Daytona 500. Daly, an IndyCar veteran who competed in the 500s for the first time, said afterwards in the pit lane that he judged his car’s chances of qualifying so badly that he booked a flight to Los Angeles before Sunday’s race.
Now — despite not being able to make a qualifying attempt on Wednesday due to a blown oil line and an extremely poorly handling car — he will become the Indianapolis 500’s newest star to cross and race the Daytona 500.
“Well, we’ve been inherently unlucky in the last 36 hours, but we’ve been lucky. I wish I could have said I went in at pure pace but it was just crazy,” Daly told Fox Sports. “As we walked out, the car bounced around. I had no idea what was going on. I thought the drive train was busted and (Crew Chief Tony Eury Jr.) just made it better every time.
“We got lucky with the yellows to try and get some experience but it’s pretty crazy. This race, I’ve watched it for so many years and so many crazy things can happen and luckily we were on the right page.” Crazyness. It’s pretty amazing.”
Duel 2 would end in a wild fashion as Aric Almirola was able to pull away from a lateral Todd Gilliland and then outlast defending Daytona 500 Champion Austin Cindric to take the checkered flag.
The win marked Almirola’s second duel win in the last three years, and a very personally satisfying one too: Almirola had originally planned to retire at the end of the 2022 season, but scrapped that plan to return for another season driving Stewart-Haas Racing’s No 10.
“I know that Sunday is the big one. We will continue to focus on that. The job isn’t finished yet,” Almirola told Fox Sports. “Just really proud. So thankful. I shouldn’t even be here. I should be retired. That’s great.”