DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After sweeping the Duels at Daytona International Speedway last year, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers looked for another successful night Thursday before Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the moves in the first Duel, leading the majority of the 60-lap, 150-mile race to claim his second consecutive Duel victory.
“We’ve got a great race car,” Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. “Our Nationwide Chevy has been flawless all weekend.”
Following Earnhardt in the first Duel were his two teammates, pole-sitter Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne, earning sixth- and seventh-place finishes, respectively.
“It’s a fun race,” Earnhardt said. “We did a lot of blocking tonight, nothing too crazy but I’m glad it didn’t have to get that way. It’s a real challenge, there’s some great cars out there. There’s some really, really good guys out there that are starting to get good on these plate tracks.”
In the second Duel, Jimmie Johnson was running third when he was caught in a multi-car incident on the final lap that landed him a 13th-place finish.
The No. 48 team will move to a backup car for the Daytona 500.
Below is a look at how all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared Thursday night at Daytona.
DUEL NO. 1
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Rolling off the grid eighth behind his two Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Kahne made it into the top five by the third lap. By Lap 10 he had fallen back but held onto a top-10 position, maintaining a groove through the midway point of the event. The last of his teammates to pit, Kahne’s crew made chassis adjustments to his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS before Kahne returned to the track and drove home with a seventh-place finish.
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Already locked into the Daytona 500 with his pole award from qualifying last Sunday, Elliott opted for the outside of the front row to start the first Duel. The rookie grabbed the early lead over teammate Earnhardt as the green flag dropped. He held the lead for the first two laps before losing it to Earnhardt. Throughout the first 25 laps of the race, Elliott fell back in the pack, still maintaining a top-15 position. Just before the halfway mark, the driver of the No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS broke back into the top 10. After a green flag pit stop and a Lap 43 caution for a one-car incident in Turn 1, Elliott returned to green-flag racing within the top five, driving the remaining 12 laps to a sixth-place finish.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: For the second year in a row, Earnhardt claimed the win in his Duel race with his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, which he nicknamed Amelia. Starting on the inside of the front row next to teammate and pole-sitter Elliott, Earnhardt took control of the lead from the rookie on the third lap and held it through single-file racing until he pitted on Lap 40 for fuel. Momentarily falling back to fifth on the Lap 48 restart, Earnhardt quickly made up for the loss by passing up to second. Abandoning the top line he had been running most of the event, Earnhardt went low to make the pass for the lead on Lap 55, holding off the competition for the remaining five laps to claim the win.
DUEL NO. 2
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: The only Hendrick Motorsports driver in the second Duel, Johnson took the green flag in third, battling for a top position the first few laps before falling back in the pack. He maintained position just inside the top 10 for the majority of the race until pitting on Lap 39. He returned to the track in third thanks to a speedy stop by the No. 48 crew. Johnson fell back outside of the top five briefly before finding himself in third place again pushing toward the lead when he was involved in a multi-car incident on the final lap. He was ultimately scored 13th.