Stewart Wins First Gatorade Duel, McDowell and Robby Gordon Race Into 500
Despite an offseason crew chief change, defending champion Tony wasted little time heading back to victory lane as he took the win over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the first of Thursday afternoon’s Gatorade Duel Races. Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5. Stewart led three times for 21 laps en route to his seventh visit to victory lane at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (three Shootouts and three July races).
“To be able to come out and have two really good strong and solid races, back-to-back, i an awesome start for us. It’s good momentum for the crew–everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing–to carry that momentum from last year. It gives you confidence going into Sunday,” Stewart said in victory lane. “We only raced against half the field in this qualifier. It’s a long race on Sunday, and a lot can happen. Even though we had success today, it’s no guarantee that can happen Sunday.”
The race ended under caution after Stewart-Haas Racing driver Danica Patrick hit the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch after the white flag had waved over the field. She was able to walk away, but her primary Daytona 500 car is destroyed, forcing the No. 10 team to pull out the backup car and start at the rear of the field.
“It was just a chain reaction. Every person that gets hit, next and next and next. It gets bigger and bigger. It felt like a pretty big hit, so I don’t know what it looked like,” Patrick said. “I’m really just bummed out that we didn’t finish the last two corners. Instead we have a Go Daddy car in the wall and lots of damage. But maybe the backup car will be faster.”
The event was slowed by three cautions, the first of which took out three cars–Paul Menard, David Gilliland, and Juan Pablo Montoya just past halfway. With just four six laps remaining, Michael Waltrip brought out the second caution with a single-car spin after a rough transition from the apron to the track surface, bringing an end to his attempt to qualify for Sunday’s big race.
“I just went the wrong way and lost the car. I feel like I let everybody down,” Waltrip said. “I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. I don’t know what to say–it’s just sad.”
Also failing to make the 500 was Mike Wallace, who suffered an engine failure and was left to settle for a 20th-place finish.
However, while Waltrip and Wallace came up short, Michael McDowell, who nearly found himself involved in the first caution and Robby Gordon, whose car was smoking in the opening laps, raced their way in with finishes of sixth and ninth, respectively.McDowell credited help from his friend Trevor Bayne as a big part of why he made Sunday’s race.
“It’s absolutely the reason I’m in the 500, there’s no doubt about it. Trevor is obviously a close friend of mind and for him to take the unselfish route and help me out means a lot to me,” McDowell said in a post-race press conference. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs for him in his career as well, so it’s just cool we’ve been able to go through those together and for him to push me into the 500 is definitely pretty special.”
Meanwhile, Gordon was simply happy to have made the field.
“I’ve won IndyCar races, we’ve won NASCAR races [and] we were in a position we didn’t have funding to race all the races [last year]. We found ourselves outside the top 35,” Gordon said. “Making the Daytona 500 is the big event. We made it fair and square to be fast enough. I’m proud of the guys.”
McDowell will line up 11th and Gordon starts 17th on Sunday. Trevor Bayne, David Stremme and Terry Labonte all attempted to race their way in, but Bayne and Stremme fell back on their qualifying speeds. Labonte will start 43rd Sunday using his past champion provisional.
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