Jeff Gordon cemented his outside front row starting spot and his status as pre-race favourite for Sunday's Daytona 500 with a convincing victory in the second of Thursday's two Gatorade Duel qualifying races.
With the evening drawing on and the threat of rain ever-present, Gordon managed to hold off the combined might of a three pronged Roush Racing assault as well as another green white chequered flag finish to claim the third Daytona qualifying race win of his career.
The driver of the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet stayed at or near the front throughout what turned into a 64 lap duel, leading 38 laps including all those following the main round of pit stops, when he assumed the lead after his teammate Kyle Busch overshot his pit stall and lost several positions.
For much of the second half of the race, which was interrupted by two caution periods, one for Dave Blaney's puncture and miraculous save aboard Bill Davis' #22 Dodge and one just as the field was preparing to take the white flag for J.J Yeley's wild but generally harmless spin off turn four, Gordon had to hold off Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. However when all three Roush cars pitted under the Blaney caution with ten laps remaining, Gordon was able to find a friend at the front when Busch also stayed out.
Busch soon moved into second spot and was able to hold onto that position through the green white chequered to complete a Hendrick 1-2 with McMurray third, Petty Enterprises Bobby Labonte fourth and Martin fifth.
A little way behind the leaders the battle for the final two transfer spots into the Daytona 500 went down to the final inches as Mike Wallace and Scott Riggs duelled for the final qualifying position.
With Robby Gordon, already assured of a place in Sunday's big race thanks to the results of the first Gatorade Duel, running as the best placed 'non top 35' driver, Wallace was able to hold Riggs at bay for the final spot, helped greatly by some last lap contact between Riggs and Wallace's younger brother Kenny, who also failed to qualify.
Gordon crossed the line in tenth spot, his result meaning that Crash.Net's
favourite 'Underdog' Kirk Shelmerdine, who briefly ran in the top six but who eventually finished 21st, qualified for Sunday's main event by virtue of his Bud Pole qualifying effort. For Shelmerdine, who has spent the last two years trying to compete on the Nextel Cup tour with some equipment and engines dating from the 1990's after an illustrious career as the late Dale Earnhardt's crew-chief, this was just reward for two years of struggles and disappointment.
While Shelmerdine and his small band of very merry men will undoubtedly celebrate long into the evening, Riggs and Kenny Wallace led the list of the heartbroken who will watch Sunday's race on TV. In addition to the above two, Scott Wimmer, Chad Blount, Carl Long, Morgan Shepherd and Stanton Barrett also failed to qualify.