Showcasing the Earnhardt Childress Racing motors that have been strong on the restrictor-plate tracks for the past few years, Jeff Burton used a consistent push from teammate Clint Bowyer to score the win in Thursday’s (Feb. 17) second Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race.
With Jeff Gordon, Trevor Bayne and David Ragan wrecking behind them, Bowyer made a last-minute move to the outside, pulling side-by-side with his teammate at the start/finish line. Burton was able to keep the advantage, however, by a mere 0.005 seconds.
“It’s a shame two cars can’t fit in here,” Burton said standing in victory lane. “With the way this thing is going it’s really important to have somebody that’s going to work with you. Clint and I tried, we were just going to find each other early and it just worked out for both of us. I didn’t know who won, but it was a good race.”
“It was fun to push my teammate to the win,” Bowyer added. “We worked together a lot and used teamwork. That is what it is all about. The ECR engines worked well. That second Duel was definitely a lot more intense than the first one. I watched that first one and about fell asleep on the couch. Second one kept me up a little bit.”
Much more competitive than the first race, the second 150-mile race saw more two-car tandems battling for the lead throughout the entire 60-lap event. In fact, the 22 lead changes set a new record.
Aside from Burton’s win, Thursday’s race was a huge win for underdog racer Brian Keselowski. Thanks to a push from younger brother Brad’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, Keselowski charged from the rear of the field to contending for the lead with only a handful of laps to go. Crossing the line fifth, all of the hard work paid off as both Keselowski brothers will race on Sunday.
Brad was able to help his older brother after a bump draft from Todd Bodine sent his No. 2 Dodge spinning down the banking. In the back of the pack as a result, the Keselowski brothers hooked up and charged their way to the front.
“I said, ‘Heck, I’ve got a great guy to work with back here after the spin and at least I know that he’s not going to dump me,’” said younger brother Brad. “The next thing you know we’re running fourth, fifth and then second. I put the pedal to the floor and kept on pushing. I restarted on that last restart ninth or 10th, drove up there to sixth or seventh and just kind of stalled out. It’s a great feeling.”
Running his own team, funding everything out of his own pocket with help only from his father and uncle, Keselowski barely made it to Daytona, but now will start his first Great American Race.
“We struggled just to even really get here,” he said. “Still putting together the car at the racetrack. Man, we just did not run good at all all weekend. It still goes to show you that you got a chance no matter what. You find a guy to push you, thank God it was my brother, I don’t know if anybody else would have stuck with me that long. It gives everybody a shot at it and says that the independent guy that can go out and find a racecar, put it together, get a good push, everybody’s got a chance at that.”
Also racing his way into the show was two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. With a push from fellow-Toyota driver Kyle Busch, he was able to finish Thursday’s second Duel in the third spot. Carrying the familiar number and sponsor he won with 10 years ago, Waltrip will make his 25th consecutive 500 start on Sunday.
“A quarter of a century of running this race – I don’t take that lightly,” Waltrip said. “I never took for granted running one of them let alone 25 of them. It’s quite an honor to not only be in it, but it looks like we can be a part of the show. The car was really fast and it handled great. The end went really well. I feel good about our car – I really do. And we’ve got more power coming – that’s a great feeling too.”
Waltrip’s day was not without excitement, however, as he and Joey Logano tangled on lap 17. Racing tightly in a two-car tandem, the pair quickly approached another group of cars as they roared through the tri-oval. Logano was forced to check up as he reached the back bumper of teammate Kyle Busch and Waltrip sent the No. 20 sliding hard into the inside wall.
Logano will go to a backup car, as will Steve Wallace – who was involved in an incident with Bodine, Bayne and Ragan. While outside polesitter Jeff Gordon sustained damage in the last-lap incident, it appears they will not be forced to pull out the back-up and will maintain their starting spot for Sunday’s race.
Thanks to Waltrip racing his way into the show, Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney will also made Sunday’s race based on their qualifying speeds. Going home are Derrike Cope, Kevin Conway, Bodine, Michael McDowell and Casey Mears.
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