Victory over Regan Smith in the first Gatorade Duel on Thursday gave Kurt Busch the Daytona 500 pole position that a practice wreck had cost Dale Earnhardt Jr. the day before.
Jeff Burton won the second Duel to complete, which means the front two rows of the grid will consist of Busch and Jeff Gordon, and then Smith alongside Burton.
The second Duel also saw impressive runs for Michael Waltrip and Brian Keselowski (older brother of NASCAR regular Brad), giving them starting positions for Sunday's Great American Race.
Duel 1 race report
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropping to the back of the field at the start of the first Duel race, as penalty for wrecking his race car in Wednesday's practice session, it was left to Ryan Newman to lead the cars to the green flag for the first of 60 scheduled laps.
Sadly for Newman, his time at the front was to be short-lived and he was turned into a spin by his Stewart-Haas team mate (and boss) Tony Stewart on lap 2 while they were still trying to sort out the rudiments of figuring out how to work together in the new era of two-car drafting on the new paving of Daytona.
Newman's spin brought out the first yellow of the afternoon although he managed to keep it off the wall and rejoined the field after pitting for new tyres. After the restart on lap 6, the Duel then ran caution-free for the next 50 laps, practically the full distance of the event.
Mark Martin hooked up with Tony Stewart for the restart and quickly got the better of Paul Menard who had led the field to the green flag. Th two of them pulled out a 1.7s lead and could be heard radioing each other directly, arranging strategy for the race to come. Both cars seemed to have problems with overheating after NASCAR's on-the-fly changes to limit racing speeds in in temperatures reaching 20C, the highest racing conditions seen at Daytona so far this week. Martin was on the radio expressing his concern about the engine temperature, and Stewart's car was soon steaming water out of the car, so on lap 13 it was Kevin Harvick who moved to the lead with an assist from Matt Kenseth.
Also forming an effective combination were Kurt Busch and Regan Smith, and by working together they were soon in a position where Busch and Harvick were trading the race lead back and forth. As the race passed the 20 lap mark, it was the turn of Juan Montoya and Kasey Kahne to team up and take a turn up front. The lead was exchanged back and forth between this group of drivers - by the end of the race there would be 21 lead changes on the books, a record for the Duels since the event length was raised from 125 to 150 miles in 2005 that would be quickly topped by Duel 2's 22 lead changes.
That put the race into pit stop territory, and the majority of the field came in together on lap 39, with most drivers opting to take fuel only, although Tony Stewart wanted some right side tyres to go with the gas. After the pit stops shook out, Matt Kenseth was in the lead followed by his drafting partner Kevin Harvick and then Kasey Kahne and Juan Montoya followed by Regan Smith and Kurt Busch, who looked to be suffering from a worrying increase in engine temperature.