Kyle Busch held off Mark Martin and Brian Vickers in a drag race to the line to win the second of two Gatorade Duel 150 races at Daytona International Speedway, while Jeff Gordon beat Tony Stewart to the finish in the first 60-lap qualifier, but the real interest lay in who made the cut for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Gordon's success in race one was his fifth win in a Daytona qualifying race, tied for second in modern era covering the period since 1972, but more notable was the fact that it was the four-time champion's first trip to victory lane since 13 October 2007 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
“It feels fantastic,” said Gordon, who won the first of his Daytona qualifying races as a Cup rookie in 1993, “We talked before the race and it doesn't matter if it's a qualifying race or the Daytona 500, any confidence builder and momentum we can get is a positive.
“It was a great race out there today. The car was driving well, and it was a lot of fun dicing it up with Martin [Truex Jr] at the beginning, and then with Tony, Jimmie [Johnson], [Jamie] McMurray, a bunch of them. I can't even remember all the things that went on out there. It was a great race.”
Busch, meanwhile, blocked both Martin and Vickers in the final half-mile around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, to regain the winning form that marked him out as favourite for last season's Sprint Cup title before his luck faded in the Chase. Busch will start fourth in Sunday's 500, with Gordon securing the third starting position. Truex Jr and Mark Martin claimed the top two spots respectively in last Sunday's time trials.
Busch credited Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth, with providing the help he needed to win the race.
“The reason I won this race today was a great team-mate,” he said, “I could have rode the last five laps and pushed Mark Martin to the win - that would have been a Cinderella story and given you something to write about - but,.Denny, that was the best restrictor-plate race I think we probably ever worked together. I really felt good about that. I hope it carries into Sunday, and I'll be able to return the favour sometime...“
As thrilling as Busch's victory was, however, the real drama in the race unfolded back in the pack, with Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger claiming the two available transfer spots from the second Duel, joining Regan Smith and Scott Riggs, who made it through from race one.
Mayfield took two tyres on his final pit-stop, restarted third on lap 53 after a caution for Ryan Newman's hard crash into the backstretch wall and then held on to a ninth-place finish.