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Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2013 Budweiser Duel 150s at Daytona

The Key Moments

Duel OneKevin Harvick thought it was time to go, prior to the first green-flag pit stop of the race and he went, blowing by Trevor Bayne on lap 37. That was pretty much all she wrote. The field spent the rest of the day simply trying to lap up Harvick’s beer exhaust, the Bud Chevy in another time zone just like the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night.

Duel TwoJeff Gordon led. Then he sped… on pit road, so Kyle Busch pretty much took control from there. Kasey Kahne tried, and failed on the last lap to make a charge as teammate Matt Kenseth served as sacrificial lamb for Busch’s second career Duel victory.

In a Nutshell – 45 cars, 43 spots. Two DNQs identified within 10 laps. An ill-handling car. Not enough parts and pieces. Drivers still learning the draft and running – shall we say it – a little scared to wreck?

Sounds like the perfect recipe for a single-file parade to me.

Dramatic Moment – For a hot minute, the first five laps of Duel Two looked like it was going to be insane. Mike Bliss, one of the aforementioned DNQs was up to 14th, all the underdogs looked like they needed to fight and the inside line was working hard against Gordon. And then… it all took a side turn to the local library where we could watch paint dry.

Kahne, for about five seconds had us believing the No. 5 car could pick off not one, but two Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas.

The lone serious wreck of the day, in Duel One when Denny Hamlin lost control had Carl Edwards nearly flipping again in a savage hit to the outside wall.

The national anthem singer, at times had more energy than those already guaranteed a comfy spot in the race.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

If it sounds like I’m being hard on the Duels, don’t get the wrong impression; I think they’re a Daytona tradition that should never be dropped. Sometimes, though all the pieces of the puzzle work against you to produce disaster. The biggest problem with these races was lack of energy, and it stemmed from the smallest car count to attempt the 500 in several years. The number was understandable; after all, some of the lower-tier teams don’t even have two Gen-6 chassis in stock yet. But when you’ve got such a shortage of equipment, combined with two cars in Bliss and Brian Keselowski clearly off the pace (virtually locking in your field of 43) you know the prevailing attitude is going to be, “play it safe.” Sometimes in life, even the best pitchers wind up throwing stinkers and the Duels, by and large one of the more exciting events of the year most times had their bad run of the decade Thursday afternoon.

Slick tape? Welcome to the new fad sweeping the NASCAR garage, on about half the bumpers of Sprint Cup vehicles these days. From Kenseth to Ryan Newman, this substance, which looks like an extension of the rear decals is put in layers on the back of the car to help with bump drafting… even though these Gen-6ers are not that good with it. Designed to “grab” the car behind you and keep the front bumper from sliding, it’ll be interesting to see how much the movement catches on before the 500 (Gordon, for one was a car that I saw with a minimal, if any amount of this tape on the rear.)

GEICO is sponsoring Casey Mears for a full season, which begs the question – what took them so long? Why, as a Fortune 500 company would you want to keep associating yourself with a single-car team you’re causing to start-and-park in the races you don’t back them? Then again, if I was getting free advertising for 12 events in which the team keeps your decals on for the hell of it I’m guessing it would take me years to pay, too.

So Kyle Busch says the leader is nearly impossible to pass. Harvick says it’s nearly impossible to get a run on someone. Does that mean the Daytona 500 is destined to fail? No, no, no. You have to understand, these guys just went a few seasons where they could snap their fingers in the draft and jump from 20th to second. Moves are back to the “old school” way of strategy and calculation, where runs are slower and it’s going to take more than a full lap to set a guy up. We’re in the midst of those growing pains, right now and know some of the newbies, like Busch himself weren’t around for this type of drafting that resembles the early 1990s more than any other era. My only concern for the 500 surrounds green-flag pit stops; if it’s caution-free, for an extended period of time I think the packs will break up into groups of eight or 10 which will make passing more difficult. But never fear; we’re talking modern NASCAR here! At this point, a 120-lap green-flag ending, with handling and not green-white-checkered the rule of thumb. would be more surprising than the mystery debris that will appear with 20 laps left to bunch the field.

The Duels are moving to nighttime beginning in 2014. Honestly, it’s one of the best ideas the sport has had as of late, with FOX picking up the live television feed. If NASCAR could get more cars on the entry list, and I think they will in 2014 what better way to drum up excitement for Sunday’s big event than two balls-to-the-wall heat races? As we said, this year is an anomaly in terms of competition and I think there’s a great opportunity to grow here.

Danica Patrick’s co-owner wanting her to start-and-park? Of course Gene Haas wants the publicity involved by making sure his first female starts from the pole on Sunday. In the end, Ms. GoDaddy pulled the perfect compromise by gaining experience but playing it safe, hanging at the tail end of the lead draft for most of Duel #1 before coming home an invisible 18th.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

You’ve gotta feel for Edwards. The season hasn’t officially started yet and the No. 99 team has already wrecked four times, from January testing (one) to the Unlimited (two) to Daytona 500 practice (three) to Thursday’s Duel One. The sad part is each of these wrecks were not of his making, as in this case Hamlin just lost it off turn 2 and slid right in front of Edwards’ path. That also ruined a potential top-five starting spot for Bayne, third-fastest in qualifying but now starting from the rear after his primary car was torn in “Tiny” little pieces.

Gordon might want to check his tachometer. Without that costly pit penalty, he would have won Duel Two going away.

Last season, BK Racing started with speed so awful they needed their Top 35 spots in owner points just to make the Daytona 500. After one year of experience, they’re not any better, needing those provisionals a second straight time with David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil.

Ryan Newman tried to enter the pits, running solidly in contention but ran into the McDonald’s Drive-Thru of Jamie McMurray instead. It cost him $5.79 for a #2, two laps of time to make an extra stop that is en route to a disappointing 21st-place finish.

Bliss had a window net fall down within 10 laps of the race, forcing a black-flag penalty that killed his chance to make the main event. Martin Truex Jr. was penalized in the last lap of his Duel for having his side window fall out. What gives? Add in the window problem Edwards had in the Sprint Unlimited and we’ve got a pattern here.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

David Gilliland was a lap down in Duel One before the late caution gave him the Lucky Dog. He came back to finish 12th for new sponsor Love’s Travel Centers. Which, while we’re at it let’s give credit to fellow underdogs Josh Wise (16th in Duel Two) and Joe Nemechek (12th in Duel One) who snuck in without the best equipment in the stable. Honorable mention goes to Michael Waltrip (14th in Duel One) who was third down the stretch at one point and in position to pull a gargantuan upset.

Austin Dillon did pretty much everything right en route to a third-place finish: perfect pit stops and an excellent pairing with Jeff Burton. Even though Burton lost the draft late, along with teammate Paul Menard in Duel Two, RCR has to be happy with their four-car fleet heading into Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya did right-side damage to his Chevy on a pit stop, but used the final caution to his advantage, tearing through the field up to third at the checkers.

Worth Noting

  • No one has won the Busch Clash/Bud Shootout/Sprint Unlimited/What Will They Call It Next, their Duel race and the Daytona 500 in the same season. Harvick is now in position to make history… move over, Danica.
  • Mark Martin, in contention late in Duel 2 before fading to sixth has now gone 0-for-30 in Duel qualifying race wins. Think plate races aren’t his speed?
  • Dillon, third in the No. 33 car, was just three when teammate Burton ran his first Daytona 500. Ah, the generation gap.
  • Kyle Busch blamed the problems with the Gen-6 aerodynamics at Daytona on the angles of the windshields. Good thing he ended it by saying, “I’m not an engineer.”

What’s the Points?

None. In fact, I don’t think I heard the Chase mentioned once here… how refreshing.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – We’ll give each Duel two generic cans. Were they award-winning? Hardly. But they did serve as an important test session for Sunday; considering their history of being heart-stoppers, I can cut NASCAR a break here as well as reward them an extra half-can for bringing back the old qualifying format. I do think, after the 500 we’re going to be looking back at a thrilling finish and going, “Man, good thing they used these test sessions on Thursday to figure it out.” For all our sakes, let’s hope I’m right.

Next Up – The Great American Race, the 55th Running of the Daytona 500 is this Sunday at 1 p.m.

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