Aric Almirola won the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel race at Daytona Thursday night, while Ryan Preece kept Ty Dillon from a spot in the Daytona 500.
Almirola controlled much of the 60-lap event. He cycled to the race lead for the final time with 23 laps to go, after the race’s only round of green-flag pit stops. He led a race-high 52 laps and held off Christopher Bell at the finish.
“This thing was a hot rod,” said Almirola after his first win in a Duel event. “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. Our Ford Mustang is fast, and it’s a great way to kick off the season.”
Ryan Newman finished third ahead of Joey Logano.
Preece nipped Dillon coming to the checkered flag for the fifth position. Dillon finished sixth and did not earn a spot in the Daytona 500, the second year in a row that Gaunt Brothers Racing failed to qualify for the season-opener.
Dillon ran inside the top 10, holding the transfer spot after pit stops. For much of the final run to the finish, the field was single-file. However, inside the final five laps, the action picked up, and the field was side-by-side coming to the checker.
Almirola and Logano battled for the race lead coming out of Turn 4. The outside lane held by Almirola prevailed, and as Logano faded on the bottom, it slowed Dillon’s run. Preece charged by on the outside and beat Dillon by a nose at the finish line.
Because Preece finished the highest of the open teams, he did not need to fall back on his qualifying speed. As a result, Dillon did not earn a spot, and instead, it went to the next-fastest car on qualifying speed, Austin Cindric.
“It hurts for sure,” Dillon said. “It’s been just unique this off-season for me with the ups and downs. It’s a blessing to get to drive a race car in NASCAR first of all, and you get so close to being in the Daytona 500 again. It’s tough. I have to thank Johnny Morris and Marty Gaunt, Toyota… This is the opportunity of a lifetime to continue to drive race cars. I believe in myself that I can get it done in these races, and to finish sixth and not get any reward for it is hard. I’ll get the great reward of spending time with my kids on Sunday, and we’ll probably watch the race. It definitely hurts.”
Meanwhile, Cindric finished 16th, but was one lap off the pace after being penalized for speeding on pit road.
“First of all, I get the bonehead of the race award speeding in the last section of pit road when I nailed everything else the whole night that I didn’t know how to do,” said Cindric. “So my guys can all have a shot punching me wherever they want to. But I’m obviously really happy to get our Verizon 5G Ford Mustang into the big show. There’s a lot left for me to learn, but racing on the biggest stage against the best drivers is an amazing opportunity.”
Denny Hamlin was running in the lead pack when he ran out of fuel going into Turn 4 on the final lap. He finished 13th.
Daytona 500 polesitter Alex Bowman finished 20th, multiple laps down. Bowman pitted on lap 31 after reporting a potential engine problem, but after the No. 48 team checked under the hood, he returned to the track and finished the race.
In addition to Dillon not qualifying for the Daytona 500, Timmy Hill also did not make the race. Hill finished 19th, three laps down.
1. (2) Aric Almirola, Ford, 60.
2. (4) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 60.
3. (12) Ryan Newman, Ford, 60.
4. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 60.
5. (5) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 60.
6. (17) Ty Dillon(i), Toyota, 60.
7. (8) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 60.
8. (6) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 60.
9. (14) Michael McDowell, Ford, 60.
10. (18) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 60.
11. (3) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 60.
12. (9) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 60.
13. (7) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 60.
14. (13) Cole Custer, Ford, 60.
15. (16) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 60.
16. (10) Austin Cindric(i), Ford, 59.
17. (15) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 59.
18. (19) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 58.
19. (20) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 57.
20. (1) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 56.
21. (21) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 56.
22. (22) Josh Bilicki, Ford, Overheating, 14.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 191.966 mph.
Time of Race: 0 Hrs, 46 Mins, 53 Secs. Margin of Victory: .041 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 0 for laps.
Lead Changes: 9 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Bowman 0;A. Almirola 1-2;D. Suarez 3-4;C. Bell 5;A. Almirola 6;C. Bell 7-8;A. Almirola 9-33;D. Hamlin 34;T. Reddick 35-36;A. Almirola 37-60.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Aric Almirola 4 times for 52 laps; Christopher Bell 2 times for 3 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 2 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 2 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap.