The Daytona 500 is one of the biggest races on the NASCAR calendar, and the duels that precede it are equally important. The pair of 60-lap races set the stage for the big event by determining the starting order for the field from third to 40th position.
The starting lineups for the duels are determined by the results of the open qualifying session held on Wednesday. The odd-numbered drivers qualify for the first duel, and the even-numbered drivers qualify for the second duel.
The winner of the first duel starts in the third position, and the winner of the second duel starts in the fourth position. The rest of the field is then filled out according to finishing positions in each duel.
Let’s take a look at some of the top drivers to watch in the duels this year.
Denny Hamlin is a three-time Daytona 500 winner and has three duel victories to his name. He has a considerable advantage at a track like Daytona, where drivers need to work together to maintain the draft at the front of the pack.
Hamlin has three teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing and could also work with Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick from the 23XI Racing team he co-owns with Michael Jordan.
The key to Hamlin’s success in the duels will be his ability to work with his teammates and other drivers on the track. He has the experience to maneuver through the field and stay at the front, but he’ll need a good finish in the duels to set himself up for success in the Daytona 500.
Ryan Blaney is a consistent performer at Daytona and has three top-10 finishes in his last four races at the track. He helped his teammate Austin Cindric win the Daytona 500 last year by pushing him to victory, and Penske may prioritize him in this year’s duels.
Blaney has finished in third and sixth positions in his last two duel appearances, and he’s a strong driver at the front of the pack. Look for him to be a contender for the win in his duel and a strong force in the Daytona 500.
Michael McDowell is a surprise Daytona 500 winner from last year and has a strong track record at the superspeedway. He’s typically near the front of the pack at Daytona and finished second in the second duel last year behind Chris Buescher.
McDowell has a smart approach to the race, which allows him to avoid wrecks and work his way up the field. He’s landed in the top 15 in each of his last four Daytona 500 starts and is a driver to watch in the duels.
The duels are an important precursor to the Daytona 500, and the starting positions they determine can make a significant difference in the outcome of the race. Look for drivers like Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, and Michael McDowell to be among the top performers in this year’s duels. Their experience, skill, and track records make them formidable contenders in the upcoming races at Daytona International Speedway.