DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson will race in Thursday’s first Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona 500 qualifying race is one of two that will be held Thursday at the 2.5-mile superspeedway to set the field for the Great American Race.
The first Duel will be televised at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED and will be followed by the second Duel, which will feature Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.
The 150-mile qualifying events will set the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The highest 15 finishers – excluding the front row -- in each Duel will fill out positions Nos. 3-32 in the 500. Even-numbered finishers will start from the inside row, and odd-numbered finishers will start from the outside. Gordon’s outside pole position is safe for the Great American Race as long as he finishes the second Duel.
Hendrick Motorsports has 10 wins in the Daytona 500 qualifiers. In the organization’s history, two of those wins have been followed by Daytona 500 victories:
1989: Darrell Waltrip wins first career Daytona 500; teammate Ken Schrader captured the No. 1 Duel.
2006: Jimmie Johnson wins first career Daytona 500; Jeff Gordon victorious in second Duel.
Here is a look at Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers by Duel:
Budweiser Duel No. 1:
Tune in: 2 p.m. ET on SPEED, MRN (Check local listings)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard SS
Start: Sixth. Most recently, Earnhardt finished seventh after starting sixth in the 2009 second Duel.
Best Duel finish: First. Earnhardt won Daytona qualifiers in 2003, 2004 and 2008 – his first year with Hendrick Motorsports.
Overall Duel stats: In 13 Daytona qualifiers, Earnhardt has three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 11 top-10s; 121 laps led.
Engine change: Earnhardt's team changed the engine in his No. 88 Chevrolet during the first practice on Wednesday at Daytona, but that won't necessarily impact his Daytona 500 position. He will start from the rear of the field for Thursday's Duel to determine his 500 starting spot.
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Start: 11th. Johnson averages a finish of 10.1 in his 11 career Daytona qualifiers.
Best Duel finish: First. Johnson won first qualifying race in 2010.
Overall Duel stats: In 11 Daytona qualifiers, Johnson has one win; six top-five finishes and six top-10s; 39 laps led.
Winner: Johnson most recently went to Victory Lane for Hendrick Motorsports in a Duel, capturing the first Daytona qualifier in 2010 after starting fourth and leading seven laps.
Duel No. 2
Tune in: Will follow the first duel (roughly 4 p.m.) on SPEED, MRN.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Start: Third. This is Kahne’s best starting spot in a Daytona 500 qualifier and his second inside the top five.
Best Duel finish: First. Kahne won the second qualifying race in 2010 after starting 14th and leading three laps.
Chart-topper: Kahne led the second practice session early on Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway, topping the charts with an average pace of 197.737 mph during his nine-lap session. That pace held, and Kahne remained the fastest in the second practice of the day.
Top-10 streak: Kahne has finished five of his last nine Duel races inside the top 10.
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Start: First. This is Jeff Gordon’s fourth pole position in a Daytona qualifier, and the driver of the No. 24 Chevy has won once from the No. 1 starting spot (2006).
Best Duel finish: First. Gordon won the first Daytona qualifying event he entered in 1993. Racing in the first Duel that day, Gordon started sixth and led 29 laps.
Overall Duel stats: In 20 Daytona 500 qualifiers, Gordon has five wins, 11 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s; 247 laps led
Winning ways: Gordon won each of his five victories when starting sixth or better in the Duel. He won back-to-back qualifying races in 2006 and 2007 when running in the second Duel.