Bell overtakes teammate Hamlin to win second Bluegreen Vacations Duel; Grala secures Daytona 500 starting spot

Having very little success on superspeedway venues throughout his racing career, Christopher Bell gained an early advantage in his pursuit of winning his first Daytona 500 title by scoring a victory in the second of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, February 15, following a final lap overtake on teammate Denny Hamlin.

The 29-year-old Bell from Norman, Oklahoma, led the final lap of 60 scheduled laps in an event where he started 16th and methodically carved his way to the front while also dodging a late multi-car wreck that collected a bevy of stars, including last year’s NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney. During an eight-lap dash to the finish, Bell, who drafted teammate Denny Hamlin into the lead, gained a huge drafting run from Harrison Burton on the final lap to feign a move on Hamlin and overtake him through the backstretch. He would then fend off a final lap charge from Austin Cindric to achieve his first Daytona Duel career victory.

Amid Bell’s Duel victory, Kaz Grala rallied from his mechanical issues during Wednesday’s single-car qualifying session and starting at the rear of the field to claim a transfer spot into this year’s Daytona 500 over BJ McLeod.

Prior to the event, Michael McDowell, who claimed a front-row starting spot for this year’s Daytona 500, started on the pole and was joined on the front row by Austin Cindric. In addition, Kaz Grala dropped to the rear of the field due to an engine change after he had dealt with a mechanical issue during Wednesday’s single-car qualifying session.

When the green flag waved and the second Duel event commenced, McDowell muscled his No. 34 Love’s Ford Mustang Dark Horse ahead with the lead from the inside lane while Austin Cindric, William Byron, Kyle Busch and Harrison Burton followed suit. With a majority of the field opting to run on the inside lane, McDowell proceeded to lead the first lap. He would maintain control of both lanes and the field throughout the early stages of the event while Riley Herbst was trying to generate a run from the outside lane.

Through the first five scheduled laps, McDowell was then being challenged for the lead as William Byron made his move to the outside lane and drew his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 even with McDowell through the backstretch. McDowell, however, would maintain his ground and position from the inside lane, though Byron kept in toe with McDowell from the outside lane as he had Kyle Busch drafting him.

Nearing the Lap 10 mark, Byron, who assumed the lead for the first time on the seventh lap, was leading from the inside lane and by a hair over a hard-charging Riley Herbst while Kyle Busch, Noah Gragson, McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell and Harrison Burton were running in the top 10 amid two tight-packed lanes. Meanwhile, BJ McLeod was running in a transfer spot in 13th place, three spots ahead of David Ragan, while Kaz Grala was mired in 21st place, dead last.

By Lap 20, Herbst, who led six laps in the process, and Noah Gragson were dueling for the lead as Herbst had drafting help from Wallace and Bell while Allmendinger, who led two laps earlier, was drafting Gragson along with Byron amid a stacked two-packed field. By then, McLeod was running in the top 10 while Ragan and Grala were mired at the rear of the field.

At the halfway mark on Lap 30, Wallace, who led for the first time on Lap 21, was leading in his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota Camry XSE ahead of Bell and rookie Zane Smith while Herbst fell back to fourth place in his No. 15 Monster Energy Ford Mustang Dark Horse in front of Gragson, McLeod, Justin Haley, Allmendinger, McDowell and Byron. By then, Kyle Busch was back in 12th while Ragan and Grala were still mired in 20th and 21st, respectively.

Then with 19 laps remaining, pit stops under green commenced as some led by Wallace pitted, mainly for fuel. Another wave of competitors led by McDowell would pit during the following lap while a select few, led by Harrison Burton, remained on the track. With the rest of the lead lap competitors led by Burton pitting with 17 laps remaining, McDowell would manage to blend back as the race leader with 15 laps remaining as he had Denny Hamlin following suit along with Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Byron and Kyle Busch.

Then with 13 laps remaining, the caution flew after Busch bumped and sent Byron sideways through the tri-oval, where he clipped Ryan Blaney and sent Blaney’s No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang Dark Horse head-on into the outside wall as Blaney’s car went up in flames. The carnage also collected Brad Keselowski, Gragson, Briscoe, Herbst, Burton, Wallace, Haley and McLeod. Amid the carnage, all competitors, including Blaney, emerged uninjured as the event was placed in an eight-minute red flag period to have the carnage cleared.

Once the red flag lifted and the remaining competitors proceeded under a cautious pace, the event resumed under green flag conditions with eight laps remaining. At the start, McDowell received a strong push from Cindric’s No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang Dark Horse on the outside lane through the frontstretch to maintain a brief advantage until Hamlin came roaring back on the inside lane with drafting help from Bell, with the latter muscling ahead. McDowell, however, fought back through the backstretch and through Turns 3 and 4 as he maintained the lead followed by Cindric, Keselowski and Grala while Hamlin was trying to regain his momentum.

Two laps later and amid a stacked two-packed field at the front, Hamlin drew his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry XSE into another side-by-side battle against McDowell’s Ford for the lead. While McLeod was trying to draft his way towards Ragan and Grala for a transfer spot into the Daytona 500, Hamlin and McDowell continued to battle dead even for the lead and in front of Bell and Cindric.

Then with four laps remaining and while Hamlin transitioned from the inside to outside lane to block McDowell, McDowell was bumped out of line by Cindric and drifted to the rear of the field. This resulted with Bell drawing even and challenging teammate Hamlin for the lead while Cindric and John Hunter Nemechek followed suit. As the field continued to run in two tight-packed lanes, however, Hamlin managed to clear Bell and assume the lead under his control. By then, Grala was racing within the top 10 and in a transfer spot for the Daytona 500 ahead of Ragan and McLeod.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Hamlin remained as the leader over teammate Bell, Nemechek, Zane Smith and Burton, who was gaining a draft from Cindric and Keselowski to march his way to the front. Amid Burton’s strong run from the outside lane through Turns 1 and 2, Bell moved his No. 20 DeWalt/Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry XSE in front of Burton as he gained a run on Hamlin entering the backstretch. It was then when Bell feigned a move to Hamlin’s inside as Hamlin transitioned to the inside lane, which allowed Bell to storm into the lead on the outside lane while being drafted by Burton and Cindric. Cindric then moved Burton out of the draft to challenge Bell for the lead, but Bell executed two blocks on Cindric entering the frontstretch, which were enough for him to claim the checkered flag first and win the first Duel event of his career.

With the victory, Bell, whose previous best Duel results were a pair of runner-up results from 2021 and 2023, was awarded a handful of championship points and the fourth-place starting spot for this year’s 66th running of the Daytona 500 as he also recorded the 11th Daytona Duel victory overall for Joe Gibbs Racing. With 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick winning the first Duel event, this season marks the first time since 2014 that Toyota competitors swept both Daytona Duel events.

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to mark Bell’s fifth as a full-time competitor and fifth attempt of winning his first Great American Race on Sunday, Feb. 18.

“Yeah, it feels good,” Bell said. “These [superspeedway] races, man. I don’t know what to think of ’em. Me and Adam Stevens, my crew chief, we have a running joke: I say these races are 100% luck. I know that’s not true, but it seems like we’ve been struggling to get to the end of it. I know I’ve been a common denominator in a lot of the wrecks. Feels good to do everything right today.”

Cindric, the 2022 Daytona 500 champion, settled in second place in a Duel event for a third consecutive season while Hamlin, Nemechek, Harrison Burton, Zane Smith, Keselowski, Byron, Briscoe and Justin Haley finished in the top 10 on the track.

Meanwhile, Kaz Grala, who needed to finish ahead of both David Ragan and BJ McLeod on the track to make the starting grid for this year’s Daytona 500, accomplished his feat after finishing in 12th place, two spots ahead of McLeod and three spots over Ragan, though the latter is also in this year’s Great American Race based on his qualifying speed from Wednesday night’s single-car qualifying session while McLeod failed to qualify for the main event.

With his accomplishment, Grala, who is piloting a third Front Row Motorsports entry, will make his third career appearance in the Daytona 500. He will attempt to achieve both his first Cup Series and 500 victory on Sunday.

Photo by Patrick Sue-Chan for

“Just really proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports,” Grala said. “They worked so hard the last 24 hours to get the car ready to race today. Some trouble yesterday. Really cool to be able to get it in the show for them. Real big opportunity for me. Excited to be here on Sunday again.”

There were 13 lead changes for nine different leaders. The event featured one caution for four laps.


1. Christopher Bell, one lap led

2. Austin Cindric

3. Denny Hamlin, five laps led

4. John Hunter Nemechek

5. Harrison Burton, one lap led

6. Zane Smith

7. Brad Keselowski

8. William Byron, five laps led

9. Chase Briscoe

10. Justin Haley

11. Bubba Wallace, 21 laps led

12. Kaz Grala

13. AJ Allmendinger, two laps led

14. BJ McLeod

15. David Ragan

16. Michael McDowell, 17 laps led

17. Josh Berry – OUT, Fuel pump

18. Ryan Blaney – OUT, Accident, one lap led

19. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident

20. Riley Herbst – OUT, Accident, seven laps led

21. Noah Gragson – OUT, Accident

With the starting lineup for this year’s 66th running of the Daytona 500 officially set, the main event is set to commence on Sunday, Feb. 18, which will also mark the official start of NASCAR’s 76th season of premier series competition. The coverage for this year’s Great American Race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Best New Zealand Online Casinos and Leaf Racewear Safety Equipment Giveaway

Rocketplay Casino

10 deposit casinos

Best Betting Sites in Canada

Latest articles