Kenseth, Stewart win Daytona 500 qualifiers
Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony
Stewart won Thursday's first Gatorade Duel qualifying race, while Matt Kenseth
took the checkered flag for the second qualifier to put both drivers on the
second starting row for Sunday's 54th running of the Daytona 500.
Kenseth's Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, had
already secured the front row for NASCAR's most prestigious race of the
season, with Edwards winning the pole and Biffle taking the outside pole in
last Sunday's time trials at Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose before the first 150-
mile qualifier ended under caution when Danica Patrick, who is making her
Sprint Cup debut this week, crashed on the final lap. Patrick made contact
with Aric Almirola and then spun along the backstretch before she slammed hard
into the inside retaining wall. She ended up finishing 16th in what was her
first Sprint Cup race event.
"It happened real quickly," Patrick said. "I guess you can always imagine when
you get down to the end of the race and everyone is on each other's doors
really close. It's just kind of what happens at the end of the race.
Unfortunately, I was part of it."
Stewart has now won a total of 17 races at Daytona, including three in the
qualifiers. But he has yet to win the Daytona 500 in 13 attempts. Stewart will
start third in his 14th try.
"We have a great starting spot for the 500," he said. "This [car] has been
fast, so we are hoping to be there at the end on Sunday."
Earnhardt Jr. finished second, while Ambrose took the third spot. Jeff Burton
and Edwards completed the top-five.
Patrick's team owner, Stewart, said he did not see the crash but noted he was
impressed with her performance.
"I thought she did a pretty good job," Stewart said. "I think I'll get a
better shot of understanding exactly how her race went when I get to see a
replay of the race. The little bit I could see, I thought she did a good job.
There wasn't any doubt in my mind she would do that."
Patrick is credited with a 29th starting position in the Daytona 500, but
forced to using a back up car for the race, she will have to start from the
rear of the field.
"We were just looking to finish [the first qualifier] to be honest," she said.
"Unfortunately, that was not the case."
Michael McDowell's sixth-place finish and Robby Gordon's ninth-place run were
good enough for them to race their way into the Daytona 500. Gordon started
the opening Duel with a tire rub, as he fell back in the field with smoke
pluming from the side of his car during the opening lap. He took advantage of
an early-race caution by coming onto pit road for repairs.
"I just know this is extremely special, not just for me and my family, but for
my whole team, Phil Parsons Racing, a small team," McDowell said. "Six guys
back at the shop that worked hard in the off-season to give us a fast car."
Michael Waltrip's streak of Daytona 500 appearances came to an end with an
18th-place finish in the first Duel. Waltrip, who had competed in the last 25
Daytona 500s (1987-2011), wrecked with eight laps to go. Just after pitting
for fuel, he lost control and made contact with the outside wall while coming
out of turn two.
"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," Waltrip said. "I feel like I let
everybody down. I raced my way to the front, and then I let them down. It's
just really hard. I don't know what to say; it's just sad. Thankful to my team
and Aaron's for giving me the opportunity and hate that I let everybody down."
Waltrip, winner of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and '03, was driving the No.40
Toyota for Hillman Racing. He will share driving duties with Mark Martin in
the No.55 car during the remainder of the season. Martin is behind the wheel
of the No.55 at Daytona.
In the second qualifier, Kenseth made a daring pass on Biffle for the lead one
lap away from the finish. Biffle had led a total of 40 laps before Kenseth
squeaked by him as they crossed the start/finish line to complete the second-
Kenseth then beat Regan Smith to the finish line by 0.2 seconds for his and
Roush Fenway's first ever win in a Daytona 500 qualifier. Kenseth will start
fourth in the 500.
"We just had a big run there," Kenseth said. "Jimmie Johnson gave me a huge
push there, and that really worked nice for me the whole race there. Without
that push, it would have never gotten done."
Jimmie Johnson, who dealt with overheating issues throughout the 60-lap race,
finished third, and Elliott Sadler placed fourth. Biffle crossed the line in
Earnhardt Jr., Smith, Ambrose, Johnson, Burton and Sadler will start fifth
through 10th, respectively, in the Daytona 500.
Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek were the last two drivers to race their way into
the Daytona 500. Blaney finished 12th and Nemechek 17th in the second
"I definitely had my ups and downs during the race," Nemechek said. "From
overheating to having to pit two laps before we were supposed to because we
started running out of fuel, just a lot of stuff went on. We're still here."
Four drivers who finished outside the top-35 in last year's owner points had
already secured a starting position. David Stremme, Tony Raines, and Trevor
Bayne made it in based on their qualifying speeds.
Bayne, the defending Daytona 500 winner, will start 40th after finishing 12th
in the opening qualifier.
"Man, I'm really excited about Sunday," he said. "We're getting pumped up
about it. We'll see what happens once the race starts and we get going."
Two-time series titleholder Terry Labonte will use the champion's provisional.
Joining Waltrip in failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were: Bill
Elliott, Robert Richardson Jr., Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace and J.J. Yeley.
Elliott won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and '87, as well as the series
championship in '88.
02/23 20:03:54 ET
Powered by The Sports Network.