The Gatorade Duel at Daytona once again provided exhilarating finishes as Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton claimed their positions on the second row for Sunday’s 53rd annual Daytona 500 with wins in their respective races today at historic Daytona International Speedway.
Busch has proven perfect so far on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, capturing his second victory of Speedweeks in an exciting green-white-checkered finish in the first Gatorade Duel. Busch, who had not won at a restrictor-plate race before last Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout, was pushed around the track by Regan Smith who finished second.
“This is sweet,” said Busch of his recent luck on the high banks of Daytona. “To start this strong with the double-deuce, I’m beside myself. It’s pretty special how Daytona can be repaved after 30 years and you see something completely different, yet it’s still the same old Daytona.”
“Kurt and I worked good all day and we had good cars hooked up together,” Smith said. “He worked with me down here last week and taught me the switch. I hope we can find each other and do the same thing on Sunday. I’m real excited for Sunday. I’ve got that 22 car sitting right in front of me.”
Burton captured his first-ever victory during Speedweeks with a thrilling finish, nipping Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer at the finish line by .005 seconds – which ties Jimmie Johnson’s finish over Kevin Harvick in the first Gatorade Duel last year as the second-closest finish in the history of the Gatorade Duel since the inception of electronic timing and scoring.
“It’s a shame two cars can’t fit in (victory lane),” said Burton who had paired with Bowyer through the race. “Clint and I decided we were just going to find each other early and it worked out well for both of us. I didn’t know who won, but it was a good race.”
The first race saw nine drivers exchange the lead a record 20 times with 2007 Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick leading a race-high 20 of the extended 62 laps. That record didn’t last long though as eight drivers traded the lead 22 times with race-winner Burton keeping his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet at the front for a race-high 17 laps.
Of the 48 cars battling in today’s Duels, 13 were not guaranteed a spot in the richest and most prestigious race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Of those, two-time Daytona 500 champions Bill Elliott and Michael Waltrip, J.J. Yeley and Brian Keselowski were awarded transfer spots. Travis Kvapil, Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney made the field based on their qualifying times and Terry Labonte received the past champion provisional. Casey Mears, Kevin Conway, 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope, Todd Bodine and Michael McDowell did not qualify.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who captured the pole last Sunday during Daytona 500 Qualifying presented by Kroger, was forced to go to a back-up car after an incident during practice on Wednesday. He finished 13th. Jeff Gordon, who will be starting on the outside of the front row, led four times for 10 laps and finished 12th.