As racing resumed at Daytona International Speedway following a two-hour plus rain delay Thursday night, there was a definitive sense of urgency in the field for the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at Daytona as the clock passed midnight.
While the Toyota contingent of Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch pushed to the front on the restart with two laps remaining in overtime, it was Austin Dillon – with a well-timed shove from former teammate Kevin Harvick – who rallied to the front, dropped low on Wallace and then won the drag race to the checkered flag for his first career Duel victory - a mere .057-seconds over Wallace.
It is the first Daytona qualifying race Dillon has won and he did it leading the only two laps on the night, lap 33 and then the last lap (63). It was similar to what he did in winning the 2018 Daytona 500 in the famed Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet when he led only the last lap – finishing a quarter-second ahead of Wallace then too.
“I was talking to spotter before the restart and he was like, ‘we’ve got the 4 (Harvick) behind us and he’s been pushing well all night’. He had the 12 [Ryan Blaney in a Ford, like Harvick] so I knew the manufacturer thing was going to be tough," Dillon said.
“I made a decent block on the backstretch and just a heckuva push through three and four. I knew Bubba was going to try and block, but I just whipped the wheel and it worked out well."
The race marked the debut of Wallace’s 23XI Racing team, the No. 23 Toyota co-owned by three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Wallace was fourth fastest in pole qualifying and finished runner-up in the 2018 Daytona 500 – so this is a venue where he is particularly optimistic about delivering for the new operation.
“A lot of mistakes," Wallace said after climbing out of his Toyota. “Good debut but nothing to be really happy about for myself. It’s okay for drivers to be hard on themselves, that’s how we motivate ourselves to go out there and be better.
“Hats off to my guys at 23XI for a great DoorDash Toyota Camry. I tried to do all I could to help [Martin] Truex there get Toyota a win. I appreciate Kyle [Busch] for cutting me a lot of breaks.
“I know I have a lot to learn here, but all in all it was a good night. I’ve got some learning to do."
A five-car accident with four laps of regulation remaining forced the overtime period. Garrett Smithley – who needed to race his way into the Daytona 500 field – made contact with former NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski triggering a chain-reaction accident.
Outside pole-sitter William Byron, who led a race best 35 of the 63 laps, was also caught in the melee and his Hendrick Motorsports team will have to use a back-up version of his No. 24 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Harvick, a former series champion who won a series-high nine races last year, helped push his former RCR teammate Dillon to the front. He finished third, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
Veteran David Ragan finished eighth – best among the Open cars, needing to earn a position in the Daytona 500 field. Kaz Grala finished 14 and took the last open position in the 40-car field.
The NASCAR Cup Series will have two more practices prior to the Daytona 500 – a pair of sessions on Saturday. The Daytona 500 is set for Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Nine times previously a winner from the Duel qualifying race has gone on to win the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin is trying to win a record third consecutive Daytona 500.