DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned spots inside the top 13 in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel 150s at Daytona International Speedway. Martin led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates with an eighth-place finish, while Johnson took 11th and Earnhardt scored 13th in the first Duel.
Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, finished 12th in the second Gatorade Duel. Gordon started from the pole position in the second event and contended throughout the race, partnering with Trevor Bayne. During the final laps, the Gordon-Bayne team was involved in an incident, with Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet suffering some right-side damage. Gordon, who led 10 laps in Thursday's race, still is scheduled to line up from the outside pole position for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, opened the first Duel from the fourth position and quickly took the lead for three laps. The NASCAR veteran spent the first several laps drafting with Tony Stewart before being shuffled into the field. Martin fought back and finished eighth, which matches the qualifying spot he earned during the Feb. 13 Daytona 500 qualifying session. Based on the way the Gatorade Duels work, the finishers in this first race, with the exception of the pole sitter, line up on the inside row for the Daytona 500. That means Martin tentatively will start 17th in the Daytona 500.
“It was fun and we have a really fast race car, and it is still in one piece," Martin said. "We located a number of things we need to work on in different areas. We have a few days to get. Before today we really didn’t know what we really needed to zero in on. I am tickled to death. The GoDaddy.com Chevy can win this race, but we are going to have to make those areas better, and we know where to work.”
Johnson started the Duel from the rear of the field after changing engines in his No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet. Finding help along the way, Johnson improved his position and broke into the top 10 by the midway point. He finished 11th, which means he tentatively will line up 23rd for the Daytona 500. The five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion earned 15th during the Daytona 500 qualifying session on Feb. 13.
Earnhardt was slated for the pole position in Thursday’s event after earning the pole award during qualifying on Feb. 13. But he was reassigned to the rear of the field after being involved in an incident during Wednesday’s practice session. The driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, improved with his teammate Johnson and crossed the finish line 13th.
"We need to find more speed on the car," Earnhardt said. "Guys are able to run a little bit longer than we are without swapping. We need to find a little bit better deal on the cooling. We've got some homework to do but we've been working really hard."
Despite finishing 13th, Earnhardt’s car swap means he still will start the Daytona 500 from the rear of the field.