Almirola, Dillon Win Bluegreen Vacations Duels; Daytona 500 Front Row Adjustedby Hunter Thomas February 12, 2021 0 comments
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The starting lineup for the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 has been set following Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona International Speedway.
Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon won their respective Duels on Thursday, but following the carnage in the second race, the front row for the Daytona 500 will be adjusted.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola dominated the first Duel, leading 52 of the 60 laps in the No. 10 Smithfield Ford. On the final lap, a push from Christopher Bell around Almirola’s fellow Ford Performance driver, Joey Logano helped him solidify the victory. Almirola is a Florida native, so the win on Thursday night was very special to him.
“This thing was a hot rod,” Almirola said. “I’m so proud of these guys on this race team. Our race car is so fast. I’m proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. We’ve got an incredible race car and I can’t wait for the Daytona 500. Thanks to Smithfield and everybody that supports this program. Our Ford Mustang is fast and it’s a great way to kick off the season.”
Bell finished a close second, followed by Ryan Newman, Logano and Ryan Preece.
Alex Bowman, who started on the pole had to fall out of the lead pack due to feeling a vibration in the car. So long as there are no unapproved adjustments, Bowman will still start on the pole of Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“Definitely a bummer there,” Bowman said. “We had something going on and a big vibration with the car. We had some radio issues and couldn’t hear anyone. We have a clean racecar for Sunday and have time to diagnosis that vibration. There is definitely something going on, but it looks like the engine is good which is the important thing. The Hendrick Motorsports engine shop does a great job with our engines and that thing is totally fine. We just have something going on that is shaking the car, so we just have to figure that out.”
Due to a chain of circumstances, although Ty Dillon finished sixth in the Duel, he will not compete in this year’s Daytona 500. Instead, Austin Cindric who finished 16th, will. The reason being is because Preece raced his way in, so the next car to advance would be the next quickest in qualifying, which was Cindric.
“In some ways I feel lucky,” Cindric said. “The scenario in which it had to play out was very specific. The 37 got trapped on the top. When the 96 went down to the middle lane in three and four, I shoved for all I could.
“Obviously, Ty drove a really great race. I think he outdrove what he was driving, put himself in a great position. It’s unfortunate because he’s definitely a veteran of the series. I think he deserves to be in the race. Like I said, some days it’s your day and some days it isn’t.”
In the second Duel, Austin Dillon made a bold move around Bubba Wallace to capture the victory. As the field entered the tri-oval for the checkered flag, Wallace, who was leading at the time slid up the track to block Dillon. Wallace’s move was unable to stop Dillon, as the Richard Childress Racing driver was carrying too much momentum as he flew into the lead in the final yards of the finish line.
“What a way to capitalize on our Duel and show what our No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE can do,” Dillon said. “I was talking to my spotter, Brandon Benesch, about having the No. 4 car behind us on the final restart since he had been pushing well all night. I knew he had another Ford behind him though, so it was going to be tough. I made a decent block down the backstretch and got a big push after that. I knew the No. 23 (Bubba Wallace) was going to try to block me as we came to the line but I just whipped the wheel, and it all worked out. It’s going to be a great feeling rolling off Sunday up near the front row, and I’m hopeful we can have a similar result that evening for Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Off Road, Dow, Coca-Cola and all of our partners.”
Wallace did hold on to a runner-up finish in his debut for 23XI Racing. Kevin Harvick, Busch Clash winner Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott completed the top-five.
The first caution of the weekend came out, when Chase Briscoe spun exiting Turn 2 on lap 37. With nowhere to go, Kaz Grala, Garrett Smithley, Anthony Alfredo and BJ McLeod were involved.
On lap 58, the caution flew again, this time involving outside Daytona 500 pole-sitter, William Byron. The accident ignited, when Brad Keselowski and Smithley made contact entering Turn 1. Smithley was trying to get around Noah Gragson for the transfer spot. As Smithley and Keselowski spun, Ross Chastain and Byron were involved. Byron sustained so much damage that he will have to go to a back up car for Sunday’s Daytona 500, which means he will have to vacate the front row.
Other drivers going to a backup car for Sunday’s race are Keselowski, Grala, Alfredo, Cole Custer and Chastain.
With that being said, Grala was the driver who transferred into the Daytona 500 following the second Duel.
“Really important,” Grala said about being able to start the Daytona 500. “I mean, not only just important for me career-wise, sponsorship-wise, opportunity-wise, but it’s big for Kaulig (Racing). They’re planning on running a handful of Cup races this year, not just this one race like they did last year.
“Being able to get in, especially now with the format as far as which cars are able to enter each race when there isn’t qualifying, this is a huge day for us, a huge day for that organization as a whole.”
The 63rd running of the Daytona 500 will get the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season underway on Sunday. Live coverage of the race will broadcast on FOX beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images