Chase Elliott still doesn’t have an official victory on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup circuit, but he has won two Can-Am Duels in a row.
Elliott, driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, took the lead from his old nemesis, Denny Hamlin, on lap 26 and stayed ahead of the field the rest of the way, winning the 60-lap Can-Am Duel No. 2 Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
With the victory, Elliott will start fourth, on the second row in Sunday’s 60th Daytona 500. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has never started lower than fourth in the 500. Ryan Blaney won the first Duel and will start third.
“We did this last year. We got the big one to go on Sunday. That’s the big thing,” Elliott said. “To be honest with you, I was kind of trying a bunch of stuff. This new (aerodynamic) package is a lot different. This package is strange compared to what we had in the past. I think we’re all trying to learn and figure out what the best position is to be in and when you want to be there.”
Elliott said the cars are a “handful” right now. “Sunday with the sunshine, it’s going to be interesting to watch,” he said.
Hamlin, driving the No. 11 Toyota, and Kevin Harvick, in the No. 4 Ford, dueled early, with Hamlin leading for 18 laps and Harvick for 7.
Hamlin, who really had nothing to lose since he has already qualified for the front row alongside Alex Bowman, has a history with Elliott. Hamlin took Elliott out near the end of last season’s playoff race at Martinsville, and cost the young driver a chance to win his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race.
Elliott and Hamlin won the 2017 Can Am Duels, which don’t count as an official victory, but the top 10 finishers pick up points for the season.
Harvick said he knew he had to get by Hamlin to have a chance at winning the race.
“I knew it was going to take two moves,” he said. “Clint [Bowyer] got to my bumper but my car was so loose. We have to work on the handling to get it better.”
The Duel No. 2 was much tamer than the crash-filled first race. The only crash in the second 150-mile race occurred early when Erik Jones, in the No. 20 Toyota, went into a spin and knocked Kyle Larson and Matt DeBenedetto out of the race early, but Jones was able to continue.
Larson said he really didn’t have time to learn anything. “Different conditions obviously than we will have on Sunday,” he said. “I just hate that we tore up another car and my guys are going to have to get another Credit One Bank Chevy prepared before tomorrow morning practice. We just didn’t really want to crash today. That stinks.”