18 February 2011
Duel win gives Kurt Busch Daytona pole
The leaders were having to deal with slower traffic as the race entered its final 5 laps, and Kenseth and Harvick looked set to fight it out between themselves for the race win, when fate intervened in the form of an engine blow-up for Michael McDowell on lap 56 that brought out the second caution of the event. That jumbled up the running order, as drafting partners now found themselves having to take the restart alongside each other rather than running line astern, which confused matters while everyone tried to get themselves into the right position to undertake the remaining two-lap dash to the chequered flag.
The situation played out to the advantage of Kurt Busch and Regan Smith, and Busch held on to the lead over an overheating Smith to claim his second win of the week - a clean sweep of the races he has competed in at Daytona so far in 2011. If he were to win on Sunday, he would become the first driver in NASCAR history to win the Budweiser Shootout, a Gatorade Duel and the 500 in the same year.
On the podium, Busch praised and thanked his drafting partner - "To be in those positions you've got to have the right drafting partner and I had that today with Regan Smith" - and also to his team for "a great race car".
Duel 2 race report
Half an hour later and Jeff Gordon was leading rookie Trevor Bayne to the green flag for the start of the second Duel. Gordon tried to organise a hook-up with Bayne, but it didn't ome together and the two quickly fell out of the top ten.
Instead the lead was picked up by the pairing of Richard Childress Racing team-mates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, with Jamie McMurray moving up to third with the help of Kyle Busch before the first caution of the race came out on lap 3 for a blown engine in Casey Mear's Toyota.
Racing resumed on lap 6 with the same pairings quickly forming and taking the front four positions. The higher temperatures and speed-sapping regulation changes were having an interesting effect on the field, making it slower to run the outside line and hence resulting in more cars running low lines than had been seen during Saturday's Shootout.
Kyle Busch briefly took the lead on lap 10, then it was Carl Edwards' turn on lap 13 with an assist from Greg Biffle, before Jeff Gordon returned to the top spot having finally sorted out the parameters of his drafting deal with Trevor Bayne. Gordon was leading when the second caution of the afternoon came out, triggered by Joey Logano hitting the wall and sliding through the grass on lap 15.
Pit stops duly ensued, with most drivers opting for fuel-only but Martin Truex Jr. one of those to opt for fresh rubber as a side order. Carl Edwards led the restart on lap 20 and Clint Bowyer briefly took over before Jeff Gordon returned to the front on lap 25: Gordon had opted to stick with his drafting arrangement with Bayne and turned down the chance to pair up with Kyle Busch, who was left without a partner and who consequently dropped to the rear of the top ten runners.
The Gordon/Bayne pairing seemed to temporarily lose steam and were usurped at the top by a new combination of Truex and Denny Hamlin on lap 27, but it was a short-lived arrangement and the two managed to become detached and suffered for it with a rapid move down the running order. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle briefly bubbled to the front, and then it was back to the Jeff Burton/Clint Bowyer pairing before Gordon and Bayne got back in form and returned to the front on lap 37.
The third caution of the afternoon came out shortly afterwards on lap 39 when Brad Keselowski got loose while drafting and slide through the grass, doing minimal damage on the way but sending him to pit road for some running repairs. That changed Brad's focus from any thought of winning the race and more directed toward working with his older brother Brian and pushing him into a qualifying position in the remaining laps, finally managing to propel him to 5th by the finish.
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