DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth dominated the first of two Budweiser Duel 150 Daytona 500 qualifying races Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway, but had to fight off Kevin Harvick on the final lap to win by just 0.022 seconds.
Kenseth, the two-time Daytona 500 winner, put his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into Victory Lane ahead of Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Kasey Kahne in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy.
But after the race, Harvick’s car failed post-race inspection because of a track-bar violation in the rear of the car. That meant Harvick’s finishing position was disallowed, moving Kahne to second, Marcos Ambrose to third and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to fourth.
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"Kevin, Tony (Stewart), there’s a few of those guys that you want to see behind you because you trust them to do the right things, but you also don’t because they’re so smart and I saw him laying back getting a run and he made the perfect move," said Kenseth. "I was just fortunate to get to his right rear early enough to get a big enough run to get me back to the finish line."
Austin Dillon started from the pole in the first appearance of the No. 3 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since the death of Dale Earnhardt at the track in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Dillon held the lead on the opening lap, aided by a push from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dillon hugged the high line, clearly the fastest way around, as he set the pace in the opening laps. The field soon went single-file, content to run behind Dillon early on.
A line in the lower lane formed up about Lap 12, with Kenseth leading the pack of drivers who joined behind him.
On Lap 15, Earnhardt dropped to the bottom and Kenseth pushed him into the lead.
Kenseth went to the point on Lap 29, and at the halfway point, it was Kenseth, Earnhardt, Greg Biffle, Kahne and Ambrose.
On Lap 37, Kenseth led a group of cars down pit road for their only scheduled stop of the race. The following lap, Earnhardt and a second group of cars pitted.
When the field completed their stops, Kenseth was back out front ahead of Harvick and Kahne. Earnhardt slid his front tires on his stop and complained of a vibration afterwards.
Out front, Kenseth continued to cruise until the white-flag lap, when Harvick went under him but Kenseth held to win over Harvick and Kahne. Ambrose and Earnhardt completed the top five. Dillon, safely locked into the Daytona 500 pole, cruised over the second half of the race and finished 19th.
With her 14th-place finish, Danica Patrick officially raced her way into the Daytona 500, as did Tony Stewart, rookie Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt and Josh Wise.
Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Reed Sorenson and Michael McDowell.
Dave Blaney was scheduled to race in the first Duel but withdrew after crashing in practice. Blaney did not have a backup car.