If Thursday’s Duel 150 qualifying races are any indication, Jeff Gordon is set to put a winless 2008 behind him. Gordon went toe-to-toe with former series champion Tony Stewart for the final five laps before holding off the No. 14 car, as well as teammate Jimmie Johnson, for the victory in the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race.
“I think that because of the pressure that we felt from being winless last year, it’s important for us to gain some momentum and confidence,” Gordon said following the win. “I think that’s what today does. It just puts a smile on everybody’s face. Everybody is patting one another on the back and really excited about Sunday’s race.”
Another team patting themselves on the back after Race 1 was the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing team, who raced their way into Sunday’s Daytona 500 with an eighth-place finish by Scott Riggs.
“This is grass roots right now for us. You go to the shop, it’s a lot of guys are just volunteers, passionate about racing,” Riggs admitted. “They’re addicted to the racing bug that we all are addicted to. They put their heart and soul into it from faith in Tommy, the whole organization.”
Race 2 nearly featured a last-lap pass for the win, but Kyle Busch threw a block up high in turn 4 to hold off a rejuvenated Mark Martin. Martin got a push from Brian Vickers down the backstretch, but decided rather than risk damaging his car for the win, he’d race conservative and hold onto the front-row spot he earned last Sunday in Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying.
Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger ran clean races and were able to earn Daytona 500 berths as well via Race 2. Allmendinger is running a limited schedule for Richard Petty Motorsports while Mayfield is the owner/driver of his No. 41 Mayfield Motorsports Toyota, a team he started just one month ago.
“To do what he did today, what we accomplished, it’s more than what you could ever imagine,” Mayfield said. “You just can’t imagine the pressure that’s on a driver and a team to do what we did today.”