Elliott, Hamlin win Can-Am Duels

The Can-Am Duels were held on Thursday evening to determine the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Chase Elliott continued his Speedweeks success with a victory in the first Duel. Defending 500 winner Denny Hamlin was able to pass the dominant car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. late in the race to win the second Duel, which will allow him to start on the second row for Sunday’s race.

Elliott, who won the pole for the Daytona 500, struggled early in his Duel as he was swallowed by the advancing cars of Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. As Elliott dropped as far as 12th, Keselowski took the lead, holding off Busch and the rest of the field. His Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, did not have as much luck as his right front wheel was loose, forcing him to pit and go a lap down. Busch eventually passed Keselowski for 1st as they approached lap 25.

The competition caution came out on lap 25 and allowed Logano to regain a lap back as the free pass. On the restart five laps later, Keselowski retook the lead to continue his momentum. “He’s fast, he’s brash, he’s Brad,” Fox commentator Mike Joy commented.

On lap 37, Elliott caught up to the leader Keselowski and passed him on the inside as they exited turn two. In the pack behind them, Jamie McMurray bumped into Busch, who turned right to avoid hitting Keselowski and instead colliding with Paul Menard. The resulting contact dropped Menard down the field.

With 12 laps to go, Corey LaJoie and Reed Sorenson – both attempting to make the Daytona 500 with their Duel finish – were the result of the final caution of the Duel when LaJoie clipped Sorenson. Sorenson spun into the infield, slamming into the inside retaining wall and collecting Menard in the process. Although Sorenson was not injured, the wreck eliminated the possibility of him qualifying for the Daytona 500.

“He did what he had to do to make the race,” Sorenson commented. “I hope he’s proud of that part of it.” LaJoie later added his thoughts on the incident, stating it “wasn’t how I drew it up and it certainly wasn’t on purpose.”

The final restart came with nine laps to go. Kevin Harvick, who restarted on the outside line, battled with Elliott early on, but was unable to take the lead. With drafting help from McMurray and the inside, Elliott successfully cleared Harvick and held on to win the Duel. Albeit an exhibition race, it marked his first victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and granted him ten bonus points as part of the new points system implemented for 2017. He became the first driver to win both the Daytona 500 pole and his qualifying race since Dale Earnhardt in 1996 and the third in NASCAR history alongside Davey Allison in 1991.

“I didn’t think anybody was going to help us there at the first part of the race and I had a couple good pushes to get us out front and our spotter did a great job on the roof making sure he was calling the lanes correctly and we were able to get back in front,” Elliott stated. “I’m just more excited about how this thing ran tonight and keeping it in one piece. I know it’s just a Duel win and it doesn’t count towards a win in the playoffs, but it still means a lot to me and it means a lot to our team.”

“This is a great way to start the season.”

Duel #1 results

1 24 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 1 60 24
2 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 12 60 0
3 4 Kevin Harvick Ford 4 60 0
4 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 2 60 18
5 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 5 60 0
6 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 10 60 0
7 78 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 3 60 0
8 43 Aric Almirola Ford 13 60 0
9 22 Joey Logano Ford 9 60 0
10 72 Cole Whitt Ford 18 60 0
11 17 18 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford 60 1
12 19 Daniel Suárez Toyota 8 60 0
13 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 6 60 7
14 32 Matt DiBenedetto Ford 15 60 0
15 37 Chris Buescher Chevrolet 16 60 0
16 34 Landon Cassill Ford 14 60 0
17 23 Joey Gase Toyota 20 60 0
18 83 Corey LaJoie Toyota 21 60 0
19 75 Brendan Gaughan Chevrolet 17 60 0
20 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 11 59 0
21 55 Reed Sorenson Toyota 19 48 0

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to green for the second Duel. While Denny Hamlin provided a fight for the lead, Earnhardt dominated the first half as he led all but two laps. The grid settled into single-file racing as it approached the competition caution on lap 25. Two drivers – Jeffrey Earnhardt and Timmy Hill – went a lap down during the first 25 laps, the former becoming the free pass. Hamlin, who struggled with pit road penalties in 2016, had his woes continue when he passed through too many pit boxes as he left his stall and was penalized as a result.

Earnhardt and Ryan Blaney were the top-two drivers on the lap 30 restart. Blaney played an aggressive strategy as he fought for the lead, often switching between lanes. Meanwhile, Hill’s Daytona 500 chances ended when he was forced to come to pit road on lap 32. With less than 20 laps to go, David Ragan touched Jimmie Johnson’s rear end, causing the #48 to drive up into Blaney, who was sandwiched into the wall. The impact caused Blaney’s tire to be cut down, while Johnson’s car began to smoke.

With 13 laps to go, Johnson cut a tire and slammed into the turn three wall to force another caution. The green flag wove with nine laps left and Earnhardt continued his dominance. Behind him, Hamlin and Kyle Larson moved up into 2nd and 3rd, respectively, and began to apply pressure. As they approached the final lap, Hamlin was able to pass Earnhardt on the outside of turn three with drafting help from Austin Dillon and successfully recorded the win. The win is Hamlin’s third in the Duels and first since 2014.

With no draft, Earnhardt dropped to 6th. Had Earnhardt been able to hang on for the win, it would have been the first time since 1996 that the two front-row starters won both qualifying races.

“I don’t know what I could have done differently to defend that,” Earnhardt commented.

Of the three open cars in Duel #2, Kennington finished 15th to qualify for the Daytona 500. To make the race, he needed to be the highest-finisher of the open drivers; he held off the open car of Elliott Sadler (who was already locked into the 500) by .004 seconds to qualify. The Ontario native is the first Canadian to race in the Daytona 500 since Calgary’s Trevor Boys in 1988.

“This is huge for Canada, my friends, my family and everyone on this team,” an emotional Kennington told Motor Racing Network. He will start the Daytona 500 in 30th.

The 2017 Daytona 500 will be held on February 26.

Duel #2 results

1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 3 60 4
2 14 Clint Bowyer Ford 2 60 0
3 41 Kurt Busch Ford 11 60 0
4 47 A.J. Allmendinger Chevrolet 14 60 0
5 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 13 60 0
6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 1 60 53
7 10 Danica Patrick Ford 12 60 0
8 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 5 60 0
9 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 8 60 0
10 13 Ty Dillon Chevrolet 6 60 0
11 38 David Ragan Ford 16 60 0
12 95 Michael McDowell Chevrolet 15 60 0
13 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 7 60 0
14 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 4 60 0
15 96 D.J. Kennington Toyota 19 60 0
16 7 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet 18 60 0
17 15 Michael Waltrip Toyota 17 60 0
18 33 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevrolet 20 60 0
19 77 Erik Jones Toyota 10 59 0
20 21 Ryan Blaney Ford 9 55 3
21 51 Timmy Hill Chevrolet 21 29 0
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