Aric Almirola took the victory in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel two at Daytona Thursday night (Feb. 16) after a thrilling final few laps.
Almirola enters his sixth season driving the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola was winless during the 2022 season where he nabbed two top fives and seven top 10s.
The victory in Duel two puts Almirola in the fourth-place starting spot for the Daytona 500 on Sunday (Feb. 19).
Despite winning his Duel, Almirola remains focused on the Daytona 500.
“I want the big one on Sunday,” he told FOX Sports 1 post-race. “We’re going to keep focused on that one. The job’s not finished.
Defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric was right behind Almirola to finish second. His defense of the Great American Race will start from sixth.
Another major story of the night was Conor Daly. Daly, driving the No. 50 Chevrolet for The Money Team Racing, needed to beat both Travis Pastrana and Austin Hill to make the Daytona 500 after he could not complete a qualifying lap on Wednesday. Daly struggled to hold onto the draft in his car and was not competitive, but after Pastrana and Hill were caught up in an accident, his speed was insignificant, as he made the race by virtue of being the only finisher of the three.
Pastrana made Sunday’s race by being the second fastest open car in qualifying. Hill will not be racing in the Daytona 500.
Kyle Larson led the field to the green in Duel two. Unlike his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman in the first Duel, he did not duck out of the pack after a lap to preserve his front row starting spot on Sunday. Instead, Larson opted to stay in the draft, be competitive and learn about his car.
Also unlike the first Duel, Duel two had a caution come out just seven laps into the race. Justin Haley’s side window spontaneously popped out of his car and caused a caution for debris. Under caution, the entire field pitted, trying to make it to the end of the race on fuel.
After the restart, the field raced side-by-side for about 10 laps before going single file. The pack remained roughly single file for the next 20 laps.
On lap 40, Kyle Busch spun off the front of Daniel Suarez while leading. Pastrana, Riley Herbst and Hill all wrecked in the ensuing chaos. All four cars had their nights ended as a result. This left Daly as the only open car left and ended the RCR debut of Busch.
After an intense battle for the lead for several laps, Todd Gilliland nearly spun on the final lap, opening the door for Almirola to take a commanding lead. While Cindric tried to make a run for the victory, he ultimately fell short.
With the ending of Duel two, the lineup for the Daytona 500 is officially set.
The NASCAR Cup Series season officially begins on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET in the Daytona 500 on FOX.
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