NASCAR Weekend Preview: Dueling in Daytona

Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Ahead of each NASCAR race weekend, Kickin’ the Tires previews the upcoming races, looking at the storylines entering the events while highlighting when and where to watch them. 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race Name: Can-Am Duels at Daytona

Race Length: 60 laps, 150 miles – No stages, Two races

Track: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)

Track Length: 2.50 miles

Track Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)

What Happened Last Year: Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin combined to claim the two duels, with Elliott earning his first victory of any sort in a Cup Series car and Hamlin continuing an undefeated Speedweeks into the Daytona 500 one year after winning ‘The Great American Race’ for the first time.

Weekend Schedule

Thursday, February 15

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice: 11:35 a.m.-12:55 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: 2:25 p.m.-3:25 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice: 4:35 p.m.-5:25 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am Duels: 7 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1) 

What to Watch For

(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Battles for Track Position

This year’s Can-Am Duels are a bit of a rarity in NASCAR’s history, as they’ll be contested without a need to cut anyone from the field.

Because only 40 teams showed up to attempt to make the Daytona 500 this season, each entry in Thursday’s Duels will already be guaranteed a spot in the 40-car field for Sunday’s race.

With their birth in the race already confirmed, the race becomes an interesting tale of risk against reward for the underdogs on the grid.

For drivers like Mark Thompson, D.J. Kennington and David Gilliland, the 150-mile exhibitions now appear to pose greater risk to their equipment than any track position they could hope to gain from moving through the field. The underfunded teams in the garage area will have to determine whether a better starting spot and pit stall on Sunday is worth the risk of a crashed car.

For the rest of the field, Thursday’s race could prove paramount to their ability to achieve their goals for the rest of the weekend. With pit stops more unpredictable than ever due to the loss of a crewman on each team and track position figuring to be important come the closing stages of Sunday’s race, the earlier pit selection that comes with a good result in Thursday’s Duels makes running hard and risking a move to a backup car worth the undertaking.

Front row qualifiers Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin can choose to breathe easy and steer clear of risk if they choose. The rest of the field have some decisions to make.

Class in Session

If Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash was any indication, then the Cup Series field has a lot to learn about the new rules package and pit stop formations ahead of the upcoming Daytona 500.

Given that, it’s safe to assume class will be in session throughout Thursday’s Duels.

While 17 drivers were lucky enough to get an early taste of plate racing under the current package in the Clash, the other 23 teams in the garage area will get their first true test in the 150-mile qualifying races.

Teams and drivers will be be forced to learn and adapt to the darting cars and unique five-crewmember pit stops in the limited time offered Thursday before being tasked with delivering a flawless performance in the year’s most prestigious race just three days later.

Expect all 40 participants in the two races to do what they can to make the most of their limited crash course with the new rules.

Pick Your Favorites

The winner of the Daytona 500 might not win either of the Duels, but don’t be surprised if they make their presence known.

In the history of the ‘Great American Race,’ only five drivers have ever come from outside the top 20 on the starting grid to claim a victory, though three of those five instances have all come within the last 11 years from Kevin Harvick (2007), Matt Kenseth (’09) and Trevor Bayne (’11). Further more, only one driver has managed to win the race from outside of the top 10 since NASCAR moved to the Gen 6 car in 2013 – and it came from 11th (Denny Hamlin, 2016).

That means the driver slated to hoist up the Harley J. Earl trophy this Sunday will likely run well in their Duel and earn a starting spot toward the front of the field.

However, they won’t likely be seen celebrating on both days. Teams that actually win the Duels don’t fare too well in Sunday’s crown jewel. In fact, the only driver in the last decade to claim wins in both events was Kenseth in 2012.

The front row doesn’t traditionally fare much better, either. No driver has been able to claim a victory after leading the field to green to open the regular season since Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in back-to-back years back in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

So if you’re looking for an early Daytona 500 pick, peek past Thursday’s winner and Sunday’s polesitter, and instead toss a glance to those that complete the rest of the top five in each Duel.

Can-Am Duel 1 Starting Lineup

Pos. Driver
1 Alex Bowman
2 Jimmie Johnson
3 William Byron
4 Daniel Suarez
5 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
6 Joey Logano
7 Aric Almirola
8 Ryan Blaney
9 Kurt Busch
10 Brad Keselowski
11 Ryan Newman
12 Jamie McMurray
13 Darrell Wallace Jr.
14 Ty Dillon
15 Chris Buescher
16 Brendan Gaughan
17 Justin Marks
18 Jeffrey Earnhardt
19 David Gilliland
20 David Ragan

Can-Am Duel 2 Starting Lineup

Pos. Driver
1 Denny Hamlin
2 Kyle Busch
3 Erik Jones
4 Kevin Harvick
5 Chase Elliott
6 Paul Menard
7 Austin Dillon
8 Clint Bowyer
9 Kasey Kahne
10 Trevor Bayne
11 Kyle Larson
12 Michael McDowell
13 Martin Truex Jr.
14 Danica Patrick
15 A.J. Allmendinger
16 Matt DiBenedetto
17 D.J. Kennington
18 Mark Thompson
19 Corey LaJoie
20 Gray Gaulding

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