The reigning two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano prevailed in a final lap duel against Christopher Bell to win the first of two Bluegreen Vacation Duels at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, February 16.
The first Duel victory for Logano occurred as he led the final 29 of 60 scheduled laps, with his first opportunity of leading occurring following the first and only cycle of green flag pit stops just past the halfway mark. Then on the final lap, he fended off a brief challenge from teammate Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick entering the backstretch before he came under fire from Bell entering the frontstretch. Locked in a side-by-side battle with Bell coming to the finish line, Logano was able to pull ahead and edge him by 0.018 seconds to win a Daytona Duel event for the third time in his career.
The Duel victory also awarded Logano a handful of championship points and the third-place starting spot for this year’s 65th annual running of the Daytona 500 as he will contend for his second victory in the Great American Race.
Prior to the event, Alex Bowman, who claimed the pole position for the 65th running of the Daytona 500 on Wednesday night, started on the pole for the first Duel event and was joined on the front row by teammate William Byron. Meanwhile, newcomer Chandler Smith dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his Kaulig Racing entry.
When the green flag waved and the first Duel event commenced, teammates Bowman and Byron dueled for the lead early through the first two turns. As Byron peeked ahead on the inside lane, Bowman fought back on the outside lane through the backstretch as he had drafting help from Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace. Shortly after, Blaney ducked his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang below Bowman’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through Turns 3 and 4 as he assumed the lead followed by Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Blaney led the first lap followed by Wallace, Bowman, Ross Chastain and Byron as the field started to fan out to three lanes. Shortly after, Bowman dropped to the rear of the field to preserve his pole-winning car as Chastain launched his early bid for the lead against Blaney.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Blaney and Chastain were engaged in a side-by-side battle for the lead while rookie Ty Gibbs, Wallace, Christopher Bell, Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Harrison Burton were in the top 10 amid the field being stacked up and competing through two lanes. By then, all but one of 21 starters were separated by nine-tenths of a second while Bowman was mired all the way at the rear of the field in 21st place.
At the Lap 10 mark and with the front-runners settling in a single-file line, Blaney was leading ahead of Wallace, Byron, Logano and Burton while Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chastain were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Zane Smith and Chandler Smith, who were battling for a transfer spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500, were in 11th and 14th, respectively.
By Lap 20, Blaney continued to lead ahead of Wallace, Byron, Logano, Burton, Buescher, Harvick, McDowell, Stenhouse and Zane Smith while Bell, Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Chastain, Chandler Smith, Cody Ware, Johnson, Ty Dillon and Bowman rounded out the 21-car field.
A lap later, green flag pit stops ensued as all the Chevrolet competitors pitted. Following the pit stops, however, Stenhouse and Chandler Smith were penalized for speeding on pit road as they were forced to serve a drive-through penalty through pit road under green.
At the halfway mark on Lap 30, Blaney retained the lead ahead of Wallace, Logano, Burton, Buescher, Harvick, Bell, McDowell, Zane Smith and Gibbs, with the top-nine competitors being separated by a second while the Chevrolet competitors led by Byron in 12th were trailing the leaders by more than 45 seconds. By then, Zane Smith occupied a transfer spot in 10th while Chandler Smith was mired back in 20th.
Shortly after, a host of competitors led by Blaney pitted under green. Following the pit stops, Gibbs was penalized with a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road. When the field returned to the track under green, Logano cycled his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang into the lead followed by Harvick and Blaney.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Logano was leading a nine-car breakaway that included Harvick, Blaney, Buescher and Bell while Burton, Wallace, McDowell and Zane Smith while Byron was mired back in 10th. By then, the top-nine competitors who pitted on Lap 31 were leading 10th-place Byron and a host of Chevrolet competitors who pitted on Lap 22 by more than nine seconds. In addition, Zane Smith, who opted only for fuel during his green flag pit stop, was running in a transfer spot in ninth while Chandler Smith was mired towards the rear of the field in 21st place and a lap down.
With 10 laps remaining, Logano continued to lead ahead of Harvick, Blaney, Buescher and Bell while Burton, Wallace, McDowell, Zane Smith and Byron remained in the top 10. Logano would also retain the lead ahead of Harvick and a bevy of competitors with five laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Logano remained as the leader ahead of Harvick as Blaney, Bell and Wallace moved to the outside lane in their bids to challenge Logano for the win. Just past the frontstretch, Harvick pulled up to block Blaney’s momentum, but Blaney ducked to the inside lane as he tried to challenge Harvick for second place. Harvick, however, fought back on the outside lane with drafting help from Bell and Wallace while Blaney was slowly losing ground and the draft.
Then through the backstretch, Bell pulled his No. 20 DeWalt/Rheem Toyota TRD Camry below Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Ford Mustang as he moved into second place. Shortly after, he made his move to the outside of Logano through Turns 3 and 4. Entering the frontstretch, Bell and Logano remained dead even for the lead until Logano, who had teammate Blaney gaining ground on him in the draft, managed to pull his Ford on the inside lane and edge Bell by 0.018 seconds to win the first Duel event.
Logano’s Duel victory was his first since 2020 and also the seventh overall for Team Penske as the Ford nameplate has achieved at least one Duel victory for a seventh consecutive victory.
“Just a great job by the Shell/Pennzoil team,” Logano said on FS1. “The execution of this race is everything. You know most likely there won’t be a caution, so you got to do a good job on pit road, cycle yourself to the front, but then, I’m sitting there as the leader. I’m thinking, ‘Man, I am a sitting duck. This is not where I want to be.’ I was hoping they started racing back there, which they did, which ended up kind of working out for me. When [Bell] got to me, I saw Blaney was behind me and I was like, ‘There’s my buddy. I gotta stick with him.’ I knew [Bell] would make the run to the outside [lane] and I probably wasn’t going be able to defend that. [I] Waited for [Blaney] to push me through there, so good Penske effort there to get a Duel win. Much better than what happened last year. I’m glad to have a nice start over here to this season.”
Bell settled in second place followed by Blaney, Buescher and McDowell while Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Zane Smith, Harrison Burton and Byron finished in the top 10 on the track.
Meanwhile, Zane Smith was also left smiling on pit road after finishing in eighth place and racing his way into the Daytona 500 for the first time in his career. The 500 event will mark his second career start in NASCAR’s premier series and the first of select Cup starts for the Californian as he is set to compete in this year’s Craftsman Truck Series season to defend his series title.
“Once we got to about 10 [laps] to go, I’m like, ‘Man, please, please, no caution,” Smith said. “Just a huge shoutout to my whole [Front Row Motorsports] team. Our Wellcare Mustang was good enough to get in, which there was a lot of really good open cars. Just so proud of everyone. Just unbelievable to be in the Great American Race.”
As a result, Chandler Smith, who could not recover from his early pit road speeding penalty, finished 21st and failed to qualify for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Nonetheless, he is set to compete on a full-time basis for Kaulig Racing in this year’s Xfinity Series season along with select Cup events throughout the year.
“Before [the race], I said I’m fine if I don’t make it, but it’d be awesome if I made it,” Smith said. “I’m a believer. I had a lot of fun right there. Even from that one Duel, I just learned so, so much, which was awesome taking that in. We weren’t able to get it this year, but hopefully, we can come back next year, make another attempt and get in on time.”
Amid the battles between the two Smiths, Jimmie Johnson, who finished 14th, claimed his starting spot for the 500 based on his qualifying speed from Wednesday night.
There were four lead changes for three different leaders. The event featured no cautions.
1. Joey Logano, 29 laps led
2. Christopher Bell
3. Ryan Blaney, 30 laps led
4. Chris Buescher
5. Michael McDowell
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Bubba Wallace
8. Zane Smith
9. Harrison Burton
10. William Byron
11. Ross Chastain, one lap led
12. Erik Jones
13. Austin Dillon
14. Jimmie Johnson
15. AJ Allmendinger
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down
17. Alex Bowman, one lap down
18. Chandler Smith, one lap down
19. Ty Gibbs, one lap down
20. Cody Ware, one lap down
21. Ty Dillon, one lap down
The second Bluegreen Vacations Duel is underway at Daytona International Speedway, which will complete the starting lineup for the 65th running of the Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, February 19.