The Daytona 500 changed dramatically Thursday night, and the race still isn’t for another three days.
There were several big names that crashed out of the Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway, the two abbreviated races that complete qualifying for the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson, William Byron and Kyle Larson all crashed and will start from the rear of the field and will have to use their backup cars.
But no wreck was more significant than that of Brad Keselowski, who won the Advance Auto Parts Clash to open Speedweeks and was considered the odds-on favorite to win the 500. When he was bumped from behind, he went spiraling into the wall and destroyed one of the field’s fastest cars. Now he, too, will have to start from the back of the field, and this time without his championship-worthy car.
Here’s how the rest of qualifying shook out:
Duel 1: The race started mostly single file, but eight laps in, Johnson lost control and took two other cars with him. About two-thirds of the way through, the Charlotte native Byron got bumped into the wall and spun out, too.
But the highlight of the race came with three laps to go, when Jamie McMurray bumped Keselowski’s rear bumper and crashed them both. That led to a restart, after which Ryan Blaney took the lead to win the first duel.
Duel 2: A wreck early on knocked Larson out, but unlike the first duel, there was a lot of passing in the second race of the night. Chase Elliott pulled into the lead about halfway through and maintained it until the end of the race, fending off Kevin Harvick at the end.
Three who mattered
Keselowski: The early favorite to win the Daytona 500, things just got much tougher – and more unlikely – for him in a backup car.
Blaney: He almost won the Clash and was able to stay in front on Thursday, which bodes well for him for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Elliott: Elliott has started three duels in his career and won two of them, and has never started a Daytona 500 in worse than fourth.
▪ For all the hype about the new Chevy Camaro, Ford took four of the top five spots in the first duel.
▪ Former NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers was in attendance Thursday night to support Danica Patrick, his new girlfriend. Patrick’s current deal means she does not have a backup car, so she raced conservatively on Thursday. She ultimately finished 11th in the second duel.
▪ The speeds recorded – up to 202 miles per hour from the leaders, with no wind aid – were partially to blame for the multiple wrecks, and the increased speed (combined with less handling) should mean that trend continues on Sunday.
They said it
“It’s not the (Daytona) 500. You never know what can happen on Sunday.” – Blaney.
“We just didn’t really want to crash today. That stinks.” – Larson.
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida.
When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
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