Ryan Blaney edged teammate Joey Logano to win Thursday night’s first Can-Am Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The 150-miler changed the face of Sunday’s race, the first and biggest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup event of the year. Jimmie Johnson, William Byron and Brad Keselowski all were involved in major accidents in the 62-lap race, putting their teams to work on backup cars for Sunday.
Blaney, who moved to Team Penske this season after driving for the Wood Brothers, drafted with Darrell Wallace Jr., his best friend in the garage, at the front over the closing laps. Logano, who had dominated the race, edged Wallace for second at the line.
The victory earned Blaney the third starting spot in the 500. Alex Bowman won the pole Sunday, and Denny Hamlin will start second. The results of Thursday night’s first qualifying race completed the inside-lane portion of the starting lineup for Sunday’s race.
“I saw he (Wallace) was third, and I figured he would give me a good push,” Blaney said in victory lane. “He did a great job. I thought our cars in the Clash (last Sunday) and tonight were really good. We have amazing speed. Hopefully, we can bring it home Sunday.”
An early-race crash put a blackmark on the weekend for Johnson, one of the 500 favorites, and Byron, his rookie teammate, met trouble later in the race.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet blew its right-rear tire on lap nine, sending the car to the right and into Aric Almirola’s Ford, sparking the night’s first caution.
“As I came into the trioval, the car started shaking, and I knew exactly what it was,” Johnson said. “It just hooked the car around and into Aric.”
Both cars were heavily damaged, and the two teams will go to backup cars for the 500.
“Not the way I wanted to start Speedweeks with our Smithfield Ford Fusion, but we will get another car out and get ready for the rest of the weekend,” Almirola said. “The beauty of it is that it is just the 150s and it wasn’t the Daytona 500.”
Byron lost control of his Chevrolet on lap 39 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was running behind Byron, dropped low to make a pass. It appeared that the force of air created by Stenhouse’s move caused Byron to lose control and hit the outside wall.
A few laps later, a very similar incident occurred as Stenhouse went low to pass David Gilliland. Gilliland’s car also suddenly lost traction and hit the outside wall.
With three laps to go, Jamie McMurray and Keselowski crashed in the top five, crunching Keselowski’s Ford and pushing the race into overtime.
Blaney took control from that point.