Feb 19, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) celebrates winning race one of the Budweiser Duels at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson visited victory lane and the starting grid was set for Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Thursday with the running of two 150-mile, 60-lap Budweiser Duel races.
Earnhardt was the winner in race one, and Johnson made the event a Hendrick Motorsports sweep with a win in the second race. Johnson headed into the race with his front-row, second starting spot for the Daytona 500 already known, as he claimed that spot the previous weekend.
"“It’s huge,” Johnson said of the win. “To have the week we have had with the front row being secured, the wins tonight, it has been a great start to Speedweeks.”"
Matt Kenseth took the lead early in the first Duel but lost the lead to Daytona 500 pole sitter Jeff Gordon on pit road during the first caution of the race that came out on lap 17. Kenseth quickly retook the lead, but lost the top spot to Earnhardt soon after the next restart that followed the second caution of the race that came on lap 27.
Earnhardt and Gordon continued on at the front while Kenseth got shuffled outside the top-10.
Earnhardt started the race in the back as a result of his car failing post-qualifying inspection after Daytona 500 front row qualifying on Feb. 15.
"“We have had a great car all week,” Earnhardt said. “I’m so glad to be able to get through the Duel in one piece, because I know how good this race car is.”"
Gordon finished second, Joey Logano third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Clint Bowyer fifth in the first Duel.
Feb 19, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) celebrates winning race two of the Budweiser Duels at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Johnson and Kyle Busch battled for the lead throughout the second race, with Busch’s new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards also running as a mainstay near the front. Busch, though, was caught speeding on pit road during the first caution of the race around lap 20, and as a result, wound up in the back, but not for long.
Busch was back near the front, racing for second, with just under 20 laps to go. Kurt Busch, by that point, had also made his way into the top-five before being penalized for going below the yellow line with 14 laps remaining.
Behind Johnson, the remainder of the top-five of the finishing order in the second Budweiser Duel race included Kyle Busch, Edwards, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr.
With both Duel races complete, the top-10 starters for the Daytona 500 are as follows:
1. Jeff Gordon
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Kyle Busch
5. Joey Logano
6. Carl Edwards
7. Tony Stewart
8. Greg Biffle
9. Clint Bowyer
10. Martin Truex Jr.
Six drivers failed to make the Daytona 500: Justin Marks, Ron Hornaday, Josh Wise, Brian Scott, Alex Bowman and Jeb Burton.