It’s been a fascinating Speedweeks from Daytona so far, with the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and intense but clean racing. Here are six quick takeaways from Speedweeks with the Daytona 500 still to come on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on FOX.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukRussell LaBounty
Joey Logano won the Advance Auto Parts Clash in a Team Penske Ford, Chase Elliott won Duel No. 1 in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Duel No. 2 was captured by Denny Hamlin in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
It’s safe to say the Daytona 500 is wide open. Lots of fast cars, lots of possible winners, but no clear-cut favorites.
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While he got hung out late in the draft and didn’t win his Duel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 53 of 60 laps and looked awfully sharp in his first race since July. Sure, he wanted to win, but it had to feel good to get out there, mix it up and run that well.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukNigel Kinrade
Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota got a race-winning push from the Chevrolet of Austin Dillon in the second Duel. That’s bound to ruffle a feathers in the Chevrolet camp and their fans. Will we see more of this in the Daytona 500?
“I was hoping Austin might push us a little bit since he drives a Chevy,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “But I don’t know if I would have done it any different than he did, either.”
There were no big crashes in either Duel, but there were plenty of near misses. Methinks the racers won’t be as lucky in the Daytona 500, which is obviously more than three times as long as either of the Duels.
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The Daytona 500 favorite teams — Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports — all made it through the Duels without destroying any of their cars in the process. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch got the worst of it in separate crashes not of their own making, but their cars didn’t appear too seriously damaged.
Preserving your primary car for the 500 is a key goal for all contenders, because the primary cars are almost always better than the backups.
“We had some good speed. We led a lot of laps,” said Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. “Most importantly, we took our best car and brought it home in one piece. We still wanted to win.”
For the first time in NASCAR’s modern era, the Duels paid points to the top 10 finishers in each race. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin now have 10 points each and are tied for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points lead – at least until Sunday.
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