No one did that in the first Duel race, as Jimmie Johnson came from the back of the field and wheeled his backup machine to a narrow victory over Kevin Harvick that was the second closest finish in the qualifying races since the advent of electronic scoring.
“This helps me a lot with my confidence,” said Johnson of his first plate win in a CoT. “What we’ve gone through going to a backup car… Mark [Martin] has been through two cars, we’ve been through a car, Jeff [Gordon]‘s been through a car.”
“It does a lot for the company, for sure.”
And while the first half of the race saw the field largely running single-file, the final charge by the go-or-go-homers to earn a spot in the Daytona 500 field was memorable. Late in the going, favorites Michael Waltrip and Reed Sorenson were in the transfer positions, until lap 52 saw Waltrip lose control of his car and slam into the interior wall off turn 4. On the ensuing restart, Sorenson had his transmission stick between first and third gear; he lost the draft and never recovered.
That same restart opened the door for an intense three car battle for the Duel’s two transfer positions. Leaving driver Max Papis out on old tires during the final restart and commanding his driver “not to let anyone muscle him out of the pack,” crew chief Bootie Barker played the strategy card to perfection and led the Italian road ace to his first berth in the Great American Race. And while Todd Bodine nearly scored the upset of Speedweeks, in the end Michael McDowell‘s Prism Motorsports Toyota beat Bodine’s Kirk Shelmerdine Racing entry back to the stripe to earn a start on Sunday.
Waltrip ended up qualifying for the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying speed, but will go to a backup car. Jeff Burton will also be going to a backup Sunday after blowing a tire on the frontstretch on lap 25.