On a balmy Thursday afternoon in the heart of NASCAR racing, Kurt Busch went two for two at Daytona, wining the first of two Gatorade Duel races after his Bud Shootout victory. JJ Yeley, who had to race his way into the show, did just that, along with veteran driver Bill Elliott.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”238″][/media-credit]”This is just an incredible Speed Weeks,” Busch said. “I just don’t want it to end. We just keep doing everything right and it’s just amazing to be able to do this, find the right drafting partners out there to make it happen.”
“This is sweet,” Busch continued. “It’s amazing what partnerships can do out on the race track. When two guys can think the same way without saying a word, things are going to happen for those two guys.”
Busch also paid tribute to young driver Regan Smith, in the No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing, who successfully pushed not only Busch to victory but many of the other drivers who were in the lead throughout the race. Busch also gave credit to Brad Keselowski, his teammate with whom he has tested and who he hopes to partner with in the race on Sunday.
Bill Elliott, who has been having a very good weekend so far between his own performance and the signing of his son Chase by Hendrick Motor Sports, also raced his way in on time. Given that, Michael Waltrip, Daytona 500 winner from ten years ago, has a guaranteed starting spot in this special anniversary year.
“Coming in today we had a little bit of a cushion,” Elliott said. “But the key thing is when you get two really good cars working together, they’re going to be hard to beat. This is the same thing you’re going to see Sunday.”
JJ Yeley, driver of the No. 46 Red Line Oil Chevrolet, also raced his way onto NASCAR’s biggest stage. The driver, who had to have surgery to fuse his neck just last fall, was thrilled to have made the show.
“It’s awesome,” Yeley said. “I’ve never had to make the race on my own without being locked in. The stress that comes with not being locked in is tough and to know we had a lot of help out there, especially with Marcos Ambrose, we got where we needed to be.”
From the drop of the green flag, the race mirrored the Bud Shootout, with drivers almost immediately finding a partner and buddying up. Further back in the field, the drivers raced as a pack, at least for a bit, until finding their ideal mate.
Ryan Newman was the first driver to have problems early in the race, getting a nudge and going for a spin. Newman was able to recover, however, and ended the race in the tenth position.
While the duos found their speed together, some swapping back and forth was indeed needed to keep the engines cool, just as NASCAR had intended. Also interesting in this first true race on the new surface at Daytona was the fact that no teams had to take tires, most pitting for their sole stop to take fuel only.
The only other caution came late in the race for Michael McDowell, the driver of the No. 66 MRO HP Racing Toyota. McDowell’s chances at a place in the Daytona 500 expired in a huge puff of smoke, forcing a green white checkered finish.
But when the green flag flew for the final laps of the race, Busch, being pushed by Smith, emerged as the front runner, taking the checkered flag. With his win in the first Duel race, Busch will now move up into the pole position with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. having to go to the back of the field due to a practice wreck.
“It’s just going to be one of those moments in time that I’ll remember for a long time, leading the field to green,” Busch said. “I’ll just make sure to massage my calf so I don’t cramp up with Regan Smith behind me.”
With Kurt Busch as victor, Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top five finishers. Juan Pablo Montoya finished sixth, AJ Allmendinger finished seventh, and Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman completed the top ten in the first Duel race.