NSCS: Front Row Fury; Jimmie Johnson Dominates to Win Budweiser Duel No. 2 at Daytona

Jacob Seelman Featured, NASCAR, Southeast 0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. and CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jerry Markland/Getty Images North America photo —

Jimmie Johnson made a statement about the Hendrick Motorsports “48/88” shop on Thursday night — the two cars that inhabit it will be contenders to win Sunday’s Daytona 500.

After watching his shopmate and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. power to the lead and ultimately win the first of two Budweiser Duels at Daytona in primetime, Johnson turned the Daytona International Speedway into his personal playground. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet led 40 of the race’s 64 laps and withstood a green-white-checkered finish to claim his second career Duel victory at the Daytona International Speedway.

“It’s huge,” Johnson said in victory lane, talking about the momentum boost Hendrick Motorsports will carry into Sunday’s 500. “To have the week we’ve had, with the front row being secured, the wins tonight, it’s been a great start to Speedweeks.”

“I wish my family was here — they’ll be here tomorrow — but what a day,” the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion smiled. “What a race car, this thing was bad fast. Looking forward to Sunday’s race.”

Johnson had to get through the gears quickly on the final restart, coming after a crash with three laps to go when Danica Patrick appeared to get a bump from Denny Hamlin in turn three and went sailing through the grass, heavily damaging her race car.

“It was up to me in the end. There was the caution in the end. Making sure I had a good restart, getting control of the layups was vital,” Johnson said. “I feel like I got a lot of good experience tonight, understanding the draft, how to protect.  It’s so difficult when you’re leading trying to control those two lanes.”

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five at the checkered flag, with Wood Brothers driver and Daytona 500 rookie Ryan Blaney coming home sixth after needing to race his way in — which he did convincingly.

“I thought our car had really good speed,” the 21-year-old said. “Tonight was all about transferring. There was a couple opportunities I really, really wanted to drive hard and go for a win.  We had opportunities to do that.  But, like I said, the main point was the transfer tonight.  That’s what we did. Everyone did a great job, and it’s just cool to be with the Wood Brothers and say we’re racing Sunday.”

Despite her battered Chevrolet, Patrick was able to scratch and claw her way back through the field, restarting 17th and using a push from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch to ultimately finish 10th and lock herself into her third Daytona 500.

The final outcome didn’t mean she was pleased with Hamlin, however. The two got together in Wednesday practice, when Patrick again spun after contact from Hamlin and took a trip through the backstretch grass, destroying her primary car and forcing her to the backup car she used Thursday night to miraculously race her way into the big show.

“First and foremost the GoDaddy car is in the 500 and that is what we wanted to accomplish today,” Patrick said. “We got a finish out of it. The incident with Denny I’m all about learning and he said he has to run close to move forward but he was turning me. Here we are in the race and I’m seeing him in the mirror and he is so tucked up under me and it spun me around. I don’t want to have these issues but if we are going to have these issues I want to get them resolved.”

“There is no reason to get to the point where it turns the car. But 10th gets us in to the 500 and the stress is off. I’m friends with Denny. His bus is next to my bus and this conversation will go on. I have my opinion and he has his and we aren’t close about it. I’m going to go back and look at the replay. We’re going to have to figure it out because this isn’t going to end well.”

Hamlin was on the opposite side of the fence about the incident, amidst multiple claims on social media and at the race track that the two never touched before Patrick went around. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished 18th and will race in Sunday’s 500 on a provisional.

“I try to treat everyone as equal, and if you’re in this Cup series you can handle a lot of situations,” Hamlin said. “I just got close to her and her car got loose again. What are we racing for? Eighth in a twin race? It’s not much, but I guess I’ll just have to give more room because once I get close her car gets out of control.”

The crash that Patrick rebounded from also collected Brian Scott, Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman. Labonte was relegated to using the past champion’s provisional to make Sunday’s race, while the damage Scott received in the incident was enough that it knocked him completely out of the Daytona 500 field after he had run as high as third at one point in the race.

Along with Scott, Alex Bowman, Jeb Burton and Josh Wise were the drivers from Duel No. 2 that failed to make the 43-car grid for Sunday’s race.

Wise’s race ended before the green flag ever flew, when the No. 98 car lost power on the pace laps and lost 12 laps in the pits while the Phil Parsons Racing crew worked on the Phoenix Construction Ford. Wise entered the track on lap 13 and made one lap before officially retiring and seeing his Daytona 500 hopes evaporate.

Kyle Busch flew to the lead from the outside lane on the initial start of the race and dominated the early stages with help from new teammate Carl Edwards before a caution on lap 21 — when David Ragan spun at the exit of turn four and tagged the inside SAFER Barrier with his No. 34 KFC Ford — drew everyone to pit road and allowed Johnson to leave with the advantage.

Following the restart on lap 25, Austin Dillon tried to hang with Johnson but the No. 48 got back out in front and never gave up the lead again during green-flag conditions.

Meanwhile, Bowman and Burton saw their hopes of making the starting field vanish during a lap 37 crash on the frontstretch when Burton got into the back of Sam Hornish’s No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford and sent the three-time IndyCar champion around, collecting Bowman’s Tommy Baldwin Racing entry, as well as the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon. The incident drew a near-seven minute red flag for cleanup.

“We got loose there on the outside racing in the draft and just got back into the 9 (Hornish),” a dejected Burton said in the garage area. “These cars are so on the edge and it’s very disappointing. That’s all I can say. Hate that we got tore up but we’ll keep fighting.”

“It looked like the 26 might have got a little tight – we were trying to run through the middle,” Hornish said. “There was a lot of three-wide racing. I feel pretty bad with the way this started for Richard Petty Motorsports. Got a little bit of a bump there and the car got turned into the wall. Will have to wait and see how this plays out.”

The only other notable moment of the race came following the red flag, when Kurt Busch dove below the yellow line to make a pass on Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. — and was busted by NASCAR for the move.

“I only had left-sides on top of it,” Busch said over the radio. “It’s all good bud,” was the response. “Big picture here. They know we are here. That’s how it goes.”

 

Busch served a drive through penalty but got back on the lead lap during the final caution — allowing him to push Patrick into Sunday’s Great American Race. Busch finished 12th to lock himself in as well.

The final caution also assisted David Ragan and allowed him to vault into Sunday’s race as well after his early-race crash. Ragan got his lap back during the lap 37 crash on the frontstretch and ultimately finished 14th with a wounded car — and no owner’s points to fall back on.

“I can’t describe the emotions I went through in that 60-lap race,” a relieved Ragan said post-race. “Early on, I didn’t think we were going to have an opportunity to get back on the lead lap. I didn’t know how the car would handle, it had damage, but to have three Front Row Motorsports cars locked in the Daytona 500 is a great accomplishment.”

“We’ve got two more days to perfect our backup car or tune on this one, but come Sunday, we’ll have a shot to win the Daytona 500,” Ragan said confidently.

With the field set, the 43 drivers who made the Daytona 500 now look ahead to Sunday’s 200 lap main event, airing at 1 p.m. Eastern time on FOX and the Motor Racing Network.

 

RESULTS: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Budweiser Duel No. 2; Daytona International Speedway; Feb. 19, 2014

  1. Jimmie Johnson (Daytona 500 outside-polesitter)
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Carl Edwards
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Ryan Blaney
  7. Reed Sorenson
  8. Mike Wallace
  9. Justin Allgaier
  10. Danica Patrick
  11. Ryan Newman
  12. Kurt Busch
  13. David Gilliland
  14. David Ragan
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  17. Brian Scott
  18. Denny Hamlin
  19. Michael Waltrip
  20. Bobby Labonte
  21. Sam Hornish Jr.
  22. Jeb Burton
  23. Alex Bowman
  24. Josh Wise

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