Brad Keselowski commenced a new beginning to his racing career as a driver and co-owner of the newly named Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing on a high note by winning the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, February 17, following a late battle against his fellow Ford and ex-teammates from Team Penske that included rookie Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe.
The first Duel victory awarded Keselowski the third-place starting spot for this year’s 64th running of the Daytona 500 as he will contend for his first victory in the Great American Race in his 13th career start in the 500.
Prior to the event, Kyle Larson, who claimed the pole position for the 64th running of the Daytona 500, started on the pole for the first Duel event and was joined on the front row with teammate William Byron. Kaz Grala, competing for the non-chartered Money Team Racing that needed to race their way into the Daytona 500, started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to have his digital dash fixed in his car.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Larson moved in front of teammate Byron to retain the lead ahead of the field. With the field fanning out to double lanes and in close quarters racing, Larson led the first lap.
Behind Larson on the inside lane were his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates Byron and Chase Elliott while Ross Chastain, who had drafting help from Tyler Reddick, started to mount a challenge for the lead on the outside lane.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, the field settled in a long single file line as Larson continued to lead ahead of teammates Byron and Elliott followed by Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney. Brad Keselowski, rookie Austin Cindric, Kurt Busch and Cole Custer were running sixth through ninth while Chastain, who made several attempts to take the lead on the outside lane early, slipped back to 10th place ahead of Reddick, Erik Jones, Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala. By then, Grala was five positions ahead of J.J. Yeley, who needed to race his way into the Daytona 500, and seven ahead of Noah Gragson, who was guaranteed a starting spot for the 500 based on his qualifying speed.
Ten laps later on Lap 20, the field continued to run in a long single file line as Larson remained as the leader ahead of teammates Byron and Elliott followed by Suarez, Blaney, Keselowski, Cindric, Kurt Busch, Chastain and Reddick. Grala was back in 18th place ahead of Yeley, B.J. McLeod and Gragson.
When the field Duel event reached the halfway mark on Lap 30, the 21-car field was broken apart in certain segments with a majority running closely at the front while the rest settled far back at the rear of the field. At the front, Larson retained the lead ahead of teammates Byron and Elliott while Suarez, Blaney, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Cindric, Erik Jones and Chastain were in the top 10.
Five laps later, all three non-chartered competitors were scored a lap behind as Grala lost a lap to the leaders while running ahead of Yeley and Gragson.
Just then, a wave of competitors led by Larson pitted under green while Blaney assumed the lead. Soon after, Blaney, Keselowski, Briscoe and Cindric pitted for two fresh tires as they emerged ahead of the pack. In the midst of the pit stops, Grala was forced to serve a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road during his service.
With 20 laps remaining, Blaney was leading ahead of ex-teammate Keselowski, Briscoe and teammate Cindric while Reddick and Kurt Busch were in fifth and sixth. Elliott was in seventh ahead of Erik Jones while Larson was back in ninth ahead of teammate Byron, Chastain, Suarez, rookie Todd Gilliland, Justin Haley, Landon Cassill, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer. By then, Yeley was in a transfer spot in 18th while Gragson and Grala were mired back in 20th and 21st.
Five laps later, the top-five competitors led by Blaney were more than five seconds ahead of sixth-place Elliott as Blaney remained as the leader ahead of Keselowski, Briscoe, Cindric and Reddick.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Blaney continued to lead by a narrow margin over Keselowski while Briscoe, Cindric and Reddick remained in the top five. Elliott continued to trail by less than five seconds in sixth place ahead of Erik Jones, Larson, Kurt Busch and Byron. By then, Yeley was in 18th but in a transfer spot ahead of Grala and Gragson.
With five laps remaining, the top-four Ford competitors distanced themselves from the rest of the field by less than five seconds as Blaney led Keselowski, Briscoe and Cindric across the start/finish line.
Then during the following lap, Keselowski made a bold move on the outside lane past the tri-oval to take the lead followed by Briscoe while Blaney and Cindric fell back to third and fourth. Blaney and Cindric, however, returned the favor by overtaking Briscoe to move back to second and third during the following lap as Keselowski made his way past three lapped competitors.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Keselowski continued to lead despite being pressured by Blaney, who was drafting Keselowski through the first two turns. Then through the backstraightaway, Cindric and Briscoe made their move to pass Blaney and close in on Keselowski for the lead entering Turns 3 and 4. Entering Turn 4, however, Briscoe made a move on Cindric for the runner-up spot, which allowed Keselowski to pull away from his fellow Ford competitors as he crossed the finish line to win by more than two-tenths of a second.
The victory was Keselowski’s first in a Daytona Duel event and his first as a co-owner and competitor of the newly named No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford Mustang team as he will occupy the inside line on the second row for this year’s Daytona 500.
“I felt pretty good about our car on practice on Tuesday,” Keselowski said on FS1. “I gotta give credit to the other Fords. We worked really well together. Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Austin [Cindric]. We had a great strategy. We stuck together and we drove away. Got ourselves in position where we could control the finish of this race. I’m happy to see all those Fords upfront. Good job to all those guys. Great start for our Kohler Generators Ford team! This is special.”
Behind, Cindric edged Blaney and Briscoe in a photo finish to finish second while Elliott settled in fifth place, trailing by more than two seconds. Erik Jones, Larson, Reddick, Kurt Busch and Chastain rounded out the top 10 on the track.
Meanwhile, Kaz Grala managed to track down Yeley and overtake him on the final lap while two laps behind to finish 18th and earn a transfer spot in this year’s Daytona 500, which will mark the first NASCAR Cup Series start for the Money Team Racing co-owned by former boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. The accomplishment will allow Grala to make his fifth career start in NASCAR’s premier series and his second in a row in the Daytona 500.
“I made it happen not the way I wanted to,” Grala said. “I made a mistake. I sped on pit road and I thought we were out of it, but I wasn’t gonna give up no matter what. We got into a little line in there with Kurt Busch pushing us and we were running fast lap times, and I was hoping the timing was gonna work out. It wasn’t by much, but it did. We caught them in [Turns] 1 and 2 on the very last lap and was able to get by [Yeley] for it. [I] Pulled a couple years off my life, but it doesn’t matter because we’re gonna be out there on Sunday and we got a shot to win the Daytona 500. I’m really grateful, I’m excited for the Money Team Racing. Floyd Mayweather’s car is gonna be out there, making its debut, and I’m really, really grateful to be the one holding the wheel. We’re gonna have fun. This is gonna be a fun ride together all year with them and I can’t wait to get it started.”
Yeley, who ended up in 19th place, failed to qualify for this year’s Daytona 500 while Gragson, who settled in 21st place, dead last, made the 500 based on his qualifying speed.
There were two lead changes for three different leaders. The race featured no cautions.
1. Brad Keselowski, four laps led
2. Austin Cindric
3. Ryan Blaney, 22 laps led
4. Chase Briscoe
5. Chase Elliott
6. Erik Jones
7. Kyle Larson, 34 laps led
8. Tyler Reddick
9. Kurt Busch
10. Ross Chastain
11. Daniel Suarez
12. William Byron
13. Justin Haley
14. Landon Cassill
15. Todd Gilliland
16. Cole Custer, one lap down
17. Daniel Hemric, one lap down
18. Kaz Grala, two laps down
19. J.J. Yeley, two laps down
20. B.J. McLeod, two laps down
21. Noah Gragson, three laps down
The second Bluegreen Vacations Duel is underway at Daytona International Speedway, which will complete the starting lineup for the 64th annual running of the Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, February 20, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.