Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud Special Edition: Conor Daly’s Miracle Saves Some Lackluster Daytona Duels

What Happened?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joey Logano and Aric Almirola swept the Bluegreen Vacations Duels for Ford at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night (Feb. 16).

Zane Smith and Conor Daly filled out the last two transfer spots for the 40-car field in Sunday’s Daytona 500 after racing their way in.

Chandler Smith and Austin Hill were both eliminated and will not contend in this year’s Great American Race.

It is the second year in a row that Ford has won both Duel races.

See also
Aric Almirola Victorious in Duel 2 at Daytona

But What Really Happened?

An absolute miracle in an absolute snore.

During Wednesday afternoon’s media day scrum, Chris Buescher spoke about the absence of a parts shortage heading into the weekend affecting the way they raced on Thursday.

Since there would be no worries surrounding replacement parts for the Next Gen car, drivers would have more freedom to race as they pleased during the twin 150-mile qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500. With that in mind, everyone braced ourselves for an exciting Thursday night of competition.

That’s not what happened.

The first heat race of the night saw some side-by-side racing for about 10 laps before the field became a familiar form of a locomotive.

Until one lap to go in the first Duel, that’s the way it was.

The Fords (and some Toyotas) had pulled away, outsmarting the Chevrolets on pit strategy and fought amongst each other for the top spot once the white flag waved. In the end, Logano prevailed.

As far as these races go, that’s par for the course.

And for most of duel two, it was going the same way. As the field circulated around the 2.5-mile speedway in a train for most of the first 43 laps, the headlines were already written with race leader Kyle Busch as the winner.

To make the race less interesting, Daly had already gone a lap down on the field, leaving 500 qualifying rival Hill in perfect position to capitalize. Hill chose to ride in the back with Travis Pastrana, driving the other open car but whose qualifying time had already locked him into Sunday’s race.

Then, out of nowhere came an absolute miracle for the No. 50, unexpected contact on a straightaway that changed the whole complexion of the race.

Daniel Suarez sent the No. 8 of Busch into the outside wall with less than 20 laps to go. For the new Richard Childress Racing driver, it was a frustrating end to a night that felt like it was going to be race win.

But for Daly, it was the perfect storm. What was a sure elimination from Sunday’s big show became an immediate berth in the field.

The NTT IndyCar Series star watched as both cars he needed to pass – Hill and Pastrana – were collected in the crash, forcing them behind the wall and out of contention.

Daly, who was driving for Floyd Mayweather’s outfit, became the talk of the town. The Money Team – the same No. 50 group that barely made it off of pit road before the race began – lucked its way into the Daytona 500.

See also
Conor Daly Surprise Daytona 500 Qualifier: 'We Took Advantage of Luck'

After that, the racing heated up, and Almirola went on to win duel two after a fun last couple of laps. But that certainly isn’t what everyone was talking about.

With how happy the miracle made the sweating Money Team, can you blame them?

Who Will Stand Out on Sunday?

You can’t really pick just one.

Heck, you really can’t pick anyone.

However, there is something to be said about Logano and the rest of the Ford camp.

That’s also including the Team Penske cars, who led all but one lap in duel one and also finished first and third in the 500-mile survival race one year ago.

There’s also Busch, still seeking his first career Daytona 500 victory in his 18th try. Before Busch felt the might of Suarez, he led a whopping 28 laps in his duel.

Even with a backup car, if there was a time for Rowdy to finally win his long-eluded Daytona 500 victory, it could very well be in 2023 with RCR – the same team that won this race five years ago with Austin Dillon.

What’s next?

The Daytona 500.

Daly, Pastrana, Zane Smith and Johnson will all join the field on Sunday (Feb. 19) when the 500-mile main event sees the green flag wave at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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janice

if not for suarez the second race would had been a barn burner (sic) like the first race. follow the leader is mind numbing. i am waiting for jimmie johnson to go to the 48’s pit. if sunday’s race is like this no one will be awake for the end.

fords are stout, but i can’t help but think traditional sandbagging is going on. the winner of the 500 will be the survivor of mayhem.

Christopher

The Duels long ago outlived their relevance. The teams would be better off if given 3 full days of practice and one day of single car qualifying across all three series.

Bill B

The only purpose of the duels is to make money. They provide programming for the network and fans still buy tickets to watch. Otherwise what’s the point?
The drivers know starting position at a RP track doesn’t make a difference (Kyle Busch was leading when he got sent to the wall) and pit stalls don’t matter much either. The only thing that matters is being lucky enough to miss the big ones.

Perhaps if we ever get 45+ drivers trying to qualify they will have some relevance, but as things stand now, they are basically a practice session and that’s exactly what the races last night looked like. I am sure the actual race will look different but I am also sure there will be a couple of stretches where the race looks exactly like last night.

DoninAjax

Hendrick (4) v Gibbs (6) v Ford

It’s too bad the qualifiers were run at night. I’m sure a lot of smart fans were watching real race cars and real races at New Smyrna and other short tracks.

Bill B

Not if they were watching on TV. LOL

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