Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2014 Budweiser Duels at Daytona

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Key Moment – The second Duel was dramatically impacted by the No. 48 car running out of fuel in the third and fourth turns on the final lap. The ensuing melee jumbled the running order and, in a bizarre twist, moved Terry Labonte into the top 15 of the running order and dropped Michael Waltrip out. Since Waltrip had a higher owner point position in 2013 than the No. 83 of Ryan Truex, the BK Racing driver is now going home instead of racing in the Daytona 500.

In a Nutshell – The Budweiser Duels determine the starting lineup for the biggest race of the season. For half of the first race and two-thirds of the second, the drivers paraded around in a single-file line that was reminiscent of the end of the race at Talladega last fall. While the drivers did mix it up for the last 25 laps of the first Duel, the second Duel never had a battle for the top spot materialize, the end result being the driver leading with 21 to go winning both races without ever giving up the lead over that final stretch.

Denny Hamlin has now won the last three races in which he’s competed, taking the second Budweiser Duel Thursday night.

Dramatic MomentDale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead on lap 15 of the first Duel and held it until lap 27. The thunderous roar when he assumed the top spot was the only real one from the crowd, after the National Anthem, all night. Despite events that involved a considerable amount of drama inside the cockpits of race cars, there was a minimal amount of it outside of them.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Kevin Harvick was disqualified from his finish in the first Duel for having an illegal track bar split. The violation is for the Duel only and does not apply to his time trial from Sunday. As a result, he won’t have to start at the back of the pack on Sunday — he’ll just start where his time slots him in based on his qualifying time from the pole time trials. (Turns out Harvick needed to take a provisional and will roll off 38th.)

In an inexplicable development at the end of the second duel, Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel in turns 3 and 4. The result of that apparent miscalculation by his team was the Big One that resulted in Clint Bowyer doing a barrel roll flip and multiple racecars being destroyed. That crash also caused Waltrip to fail to complete the race, but he will be in the 500 based on 2013 owner points from the old No. 56 team.

Try as they might to build up the excitement about racing your way into the Daytona 500, the end result is still that only six drivers raced their way in. Ryan Truex finished ahead of three drivers who are running in the 500, while he’ll be at home watching the race. The elimination Chase rules may be adding excitement to the championship, but the entitlement mindset of the provisional system still prevents it from livening up the biggest race of the season.

Swan Racing went from the outhouse to the penthouse, or at least the upscale neighborhood, after Thursday’s Duels. The organization had two race cars torn up in separate incidents during Wednesday’s practice — the worst of which was Parker Kligerman sliding down the track on his lid after trying to tear down some of the frontstretch catchfence. When the checkered flag flew on Thursday night’s second Duel, both of the team’s cars were in the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. The fickle finger of fate waggled in both directions for the Swan bunch within 36 hours.

The Toyota camp didn’t look too strong in qualifying on Sunday but, between the Sprint Unlimited and the Duels, the Joe Gibbs Racing contingency appears to be the team to beat for Sunday’s race. Hamlin hasn’t lost since Phoenix last season, and Matt Kenseth won the other Duel on Thursday. They may not be fast by themselves, but the Toyota gang is getting it done when they’re in the packs.

Don’t look now, but the Hendrick brigade might be right in the mix at the end of Sunday’s race as well. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon were runners-up in each of their Duels, while Earnhardt Jr. came home in fourth. Johnson, on the other hand, has wrecked two cars in two races this week. Knowing how these things always seem to unfold, it looks like Johnson will be your back-to-back 500 champion in 2014.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Reed Sorenson was barely 15 laps into his duel when his left front bearing began to give up the ghost. The end result was a last-place finish in the first Duel after just 20 laps of competition. The only reason he was credited with 23rd is because Harvick was disqualified in post-race tech.

When Johnson ran out of gas, Jamie McMurray was the first car to be gathered up in his mess. The Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates driver already had a shot at a win on Saturday night in the Unlimited taken away after some trash got on his grill. Thursday night, he ended up with a wrecked racecar and an 11th-place finish. Fortunately for McMurray, he crossed the line and actually finished ahead of Johnson, David Ragan, and Waltrip, all of whom were credited with being in the accident and not completing all of the laps.

Brad Keselowski, who’s shown speed all week with Penske Racing appeared primed and ready to run away with the second Duel race. But a pit road speeding penalty, followed by a second one turned his impressive run into a waste after leading plenty of his race’s first half.

Truex was in the Daytona 500. Bobby and Terry Labonte were going to be out of the mix, so only one of them was going to use the past champion’s provisional. When the accident happened, Waltrip and Ragan dropped out of the top 15 while the Labontes both moved in — causing the champion’s provisional to disappear and an extra driver to make it in on last years’ points. Unfortunately for Truex, the two drivers who made it were Ragan and Waltrip — and he ends up going home.

Eric McClure was attempting to make the Daytona 500 in what appears to be his last season of competitive racing. Unfortunately, he’s not going to run in the race because of a blown left-front tire. After McClure lost the tire, he limped to the pits, attempting to keep the fender from being destroyed by the flapping carcass. As a result, he ended up three laps down and his Daytona dream was shattered.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kligerman is in the Daytona 500 by virtue of Swan Racing’s points from last season. He finished 17th in his Duel thanks to an apparent fuel pickup problem but, thanks to the events that unfolded at the end of the second Duel, he made it in the big show.

Josh Wise got out of the pits quickly and found himself in the top 10 of the first Duel when the money lap was on the line. As a result, he came home in fifth place, thanks to Harvick’s DQ, and is going to be starting in the sixth row of the Daytona 500.

Casey Mears ran out of gas on the 58th lap of his Duel. He managed to make it to the pits, refuel and get out before going a lap down. The result? He came around after the last-lap donnybrook, weaved through the carnage like AJ Foyt at the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and scored a 14th-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • No driver has ever won every race for the Cup Series during Speedweeks. Hamlin has not only won the Unlimited and his Duel, he also won every segment of the Unlimited.
  • Terry Labonte is going to be competing in the Daytona 500 for the 32nd and reportedly final time after his run on Thursday night.
  • The Duels ran a total of 120 laps with a total of one caution flag for one lap.
  • Even though Harvick was disqualified from his Duel, he’s still credited with a last-place finish and prize money of $24,738.
  • If the weather geeks are right, there is a possibility that there won’t be any more races run at Daytona until Monday.

What’s the Points?

There are still no points, just as Hamlin noted in his press conference after his duel win. He still has the same points as everyone else.

Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and 6 is the finest of brews and a instant classic) — After Saturday night’s race, anticipation was high for some quality restrictor plate racing on Thursday night. The first Duel had some decent excitement after the pit stop, but the second was a total snoozer until they wadded them up on the last lap. Even then, it wasn’t really from hard racing, it was because the No. 48 race engineer needs new batteries in his calculator. So the rating is a lukewarm two flat cans of Busch Ice. Here’s hoping the 500 shows a greater sense of urgency by the competitors than this debacle did.

What’s Next — The Great American Race will roll off on Sunday. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX. If you can’t get it on TV or just want to hear the excitable voices of the MRN crew, it will be broadcast over their airwaves at the same time.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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