Joe Gibbs Racing swept the inaugural nighttime running of the Budweiser Duel At Daytona with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin finishing atop the scoring pylon in their respective 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth, who led a race-high 31 laps in the first qualifying race, was the victor in a three-wide finish at the checkered flag, edging out Kevin Harvick by .022 seconds with Kasey Kahne a close third. It was later announced that Harvick’s No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet failed post-race inspection nullifying his finish in the race.
“Certainly (the win) felt good,” said Kenseth, who has won a Budweiser Duel two of the last three years. “The last few days haven’t felt great. To get the car in the front today and keep it there, win (the race), it certainly builds confidence in all of us, makes us feel like we can go out and get the job done if everybody does their jobs and we do everything right.”
Hamlin has dominated Budweiser Speedweeks thus far, winning The Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night and leading 23 of the 60 laps on the way to his win in the second Budweiser Duel. Hamlin was followed across the finish line by three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch.
“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Hamlin who picked up his fifth career win at the “World Center of Racing”. “We’re on a roll and once that snowball starts to roll, it’s hard to stop it. Right now we’re just on a heck of a run.
“The biggest challenge I’ll have is to keep the reigns back for 450 miles,” said Hamlin when asked about what he needs to do to become the first driver to sweep Budweiser Speedweeks which culminates with the DAYTONA 500 on Sunday. “(The 500 is) going to be a much longer race and when you go out there and perform the way we have over these last few races, it’s hard not to just charge out there and show that you’re still on top and still the best right on Lap 1. That will be my challenge within myself – keeping the reigns back and realizing how long it is and try to be as patient as I can.”
As Hamlin prepared to take the checkered flag, defending DAYTONA 500 and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel entering the tri-oval, resulting in a nine-car accident.
Among the bubble drivers that secured starting spots in “The Great American Race” on Sunday include Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill, Josh Wise and Brian Scott.
Failing to qualify for Sunday’s 56th annual Daytona 500 were Ryan Truex Jr., Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Eric McClure and Dave Blaney.