Joey Logano grabbed the lead on the final lap of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying race Thursday at Daytona International Speedway and held on for the win, but a wreck at the halfway point dashed Daniel Suarez’s prospects of competing in his first Daytona 500 with his new team Gaunt Brothers Racing.
In the second Duel, William Byron made a late charge to edge Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the victory by .117 seconds and will start fourth in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The victory in the qualifier was Byron’s first win of any kind in the NASCAR Cup Series and his first after teaming with seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus last year. Logano won his Duel for the second straight year.
Logano led four times for 22 laps in the first Duel, but the real drama occurred on Lap 30, when Suarez’s No. 96 Toyota tangled with Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Ford as a contingent of Fords was trying to exit the banking onto pit road. Suarez tried to shoot a gap between Blaney in the outside lane and Brad Keselowski on the bottom, only to have Blaney turn down the track.
Contact between the two cars turned Suarez’s Camry sideways and launched him nose-first into the outside wall, destroying the car. With Suarez out of the race, 18th-place finisher Reed Sorenson transferred into the Sunday’s Daytona 500 based on the speed he posted in last Sunday’s time trials.
“There was not communication,” said a disconsolate Suarez. “The 2 car (Keselowski) all of a sudden started to slow down, and obviously it was either wreck him or go to the right, and I thought the 12 (Blaney) was going to give me a little more room, but obviously he didn’t.
“The 2 car, he started getting his hand out of the window super, super late (to signal a pit stop), and I didn’t see him. When I started going out, the 12 was there.”
After repairs on pit road, Blaney was able to continue and finished 14th.
“I guess, if you wound it, try not to kill it,” Blaney said. “We got lucky. We should have never been in that spot in the first place. It was just an error on my part and kind of a little lack of communication that didn’t end well.”
Daytona 500 pole winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the field to green and was out front four times for 27 laps. After leading laps 58 and 59 of 60, Stenhouse was shuffled back on the inside lane on the final circuit as second-place finisher Aric Almirola pushed Logano to the front.
“It feels so good,” said Logano, who will line up third behind in the Daytona 500 after winning the race that determines the starting order on the inside row. “Obviously, it’s the Duels, not the Daytona 500, but momentum is momentum. (Spotter) T.J. (Majors) does such a great job up on the roof understanding the draft.”
Logano got his first win with new crew chief Paul Wolfe after an offseason personnel shakeup at Team Penske.
“I’ve been working with this new group here,” Logano said. “They’ve been working together, but I’m new with them, and it’s been a good partnership so far. It’s been pretty seamless working out some of the kinks last week (in the Busch Clash) and being able to come to Victory Lane at Daytona.
“Winning anything at Daytona is such a big deal.”
Ryan Newman finished third in the first Duel, followed by Keselowski, as Fords swept the top four positions. Bubba Wallace completed the top five in a Chevrolet.
The first caution in the second Duel signaled the demise of another Daytona 500 hopeful. Contact from Corey LaJoie’s Ford turned JJ Yeley’s Mustang into the backstretch wall and ended his hopes of racing on Sunday.
Yeley’s hard wreck gave the transfer spot into the Great American Race to Timmy Hill, who will make his first start in NASCAR’s most prestigious race on Sunday.
A strong push from Kurt Busch propelled Byron to the lead with three laps left in the second Duel, and Byron stayed out front the rest of the way, with Johnson surging into second on the final circuit.
Kyle Larson took the third spot, as Chevrolets swept the podium positions. Kevin Harvick, who led three times for a race-high 34 laps, ran fourth, followed by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Sunoco rookie Cole Custer.
In the closing laps, the Chevrolets ganged up on Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto, who pushed Harvick’s No. 4 Ford for much of the race. On Lap 57, Byron and Kurt Busch got a strong run to the outside that Harvick couldn’t block.
“No, there wasn't any Chevy orders or anything like that,” Byron said. “We just did a good job of working together. Kurt was a great pusher and great helper. I really had a lot of trust in him. I was really trying to go with one (lap) to go, but I had enough momentum out of the tri oval.
“Watching the old races, that's where the momentum kind of lines up. I didn't know if I would get that kind of same momentum once everybody started pushing with one to go. Made it there, got to second. I guess Kevin played really nice and didn't pull a big block… Excited for the 500.”
To Harvick, discretion was the better part of valor.
“When they’re coming that fast, it’s putting a lot of risk out there to block,” Harvick said. “We have seen how that works out. We had a great car tonight. The guys did a great job. We were able to get onto pit road and had a great pit stop and put ourselves in position to have a chance there. Matt D was a heck of a pusher.
“It was kind of two against the rest of those Chevrolets, and we held our own tonight. We have some fast Ford Mustangs.”