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Hendrick teammates gear up for today's Duels

Hendrick teammates gear up for today's Duels

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will line up for the first Gatorade Duel 150 at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammates will contend in the second qualifying race in anticipation for the Daytona 500.

The twin races are fielded based upon Sunday’s qualifying session for the Daytona 500. Odd-numbered qualifiers start in the first 60-lap Duel, and even-numbered ones will race in the second one. With the exception of the front row, which was locked in by the original Daytona 500 qualifying, the results of both races combine to form the starting lineup for the Great American Race. Thursday’s races begin at 2 p.m. ET and will be covered live by SPEED.

Gatorade Duel 1
Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, will start from the outside pole position during the first Gatorade Duel 150 because he earned the third starting spot during Sunday’s qualifying session. Third is the highest Earnhardt can start on Sunday, so he hopes to maintain that position while learning more pack racing on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

“I feel like we will be competitive and should be able to be on the offensive more than on the defensive,” Earnhardt said. “That is what you want as a race car driver out there making passes.”

Earnhardt last went to Victory Lane in the qualifying event during the 2008 season, after starting the race fifth and leading 25 laps.

Gatorade Duel 2

Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne will run in the second Gatorade Duel, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.  Based on their performance during the Sunday Daytona 500 qualifying session, Gordon (third) and Johnson (sixth) will start their Duel in the top 10.  Kahne was slated to start 10th, but a wreck in practice Wednesday prompted the No. 5 team to use a backup car in the Duel, and he will start from the back of the field.

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, has enjoyed the return to pack racing and is pleased with his starting position for the second 60-lap event.

“I feel like if you’re up front you have a little better shot of staying up there,” Gordon said. “I like that. That kind of takes me back to when I first started in this series.”

Gordon won Duel races in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, and Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, are both former Duel victors, winning their respective 2010 duels. The teammates are looking for a return to Victory Lane, and Kahne might have an edge with Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-632. The car, which qualified for the outside pole at the 2011 Daytona 500, was used in all four superspeedway races last season. Kahne tested the chassis at Daytona during the January sessions.

“We have lots of cars and the team does a nice job preparing,” Kahne said. “So, our back-up car is just as good.”

All the Hendrick Motorsports drivers plan to use the 150-mile event as a learning experience to find out more about navigating the pack during the Daytona 500.

“I think we learned some things Wednesday in practice and definitely will Thursday in the 150s,” Kahne said. “The pack is still smaller than what it will be in the 500 on Sunday, but you can still definitely learn some things there. Just see where we can go. See how aggressive we can be and then that will kind of let us all know what we need to do on Sunday in order to be there at the end of the race.”