Last night, we took one more step closer to the Daytona 500 with the Can-Am Duels. These two back-to-back 60-lap races, each with half the grid, decided the full starting order for the 500 and was the first points-paying race of the season. The points system is still different from a normal race: points are only awarded to the top 10 drivers, and there are no playoff points at stake.
In the first duel Brad Keselowski led for most of the first part of the race, until the competition caution at lap 25. After the caution, on lap 36, Chase Elliott surged forward and held on until the checkered flag. Having already secured pole for Sunday’s main race, the victory doesn’t change his status for the 500. It does, however, continue to add to his momentum and gain him 10 valuable championship points.
All the drivers were a bit more conservative than usual, trying to save their cars for Sunday, but one big moment came on lap 51, when Corey JaJoie and Reed Sorenson came together, sending Sorenson hard into the infield wall. Both drivers came away unscathed.
In the second duel, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was making a strong showing in his first time back in a cup car since the middle of last season. However, with two laps to go, a fast run on the high line let Denny Hamlin jump into the lead. He hung on for the final lap to win it, as Earnhardt slipped back down the pack to sixth.
With the Duels over, the full grid for the Daytona 500 is set, and can be found here.