By Jacob Seelman, Featured Contributor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a relatively tame 150-mile affair, Joey Logano held off a last-lap charge from Christopher Bell to win the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona Int’l Speedway Thursday night.
After taking the top spot on lap 32 following a round of green-flag pit stops, Logano led the rest of the way at the 2.5-mile tri-oval en route to the third Daytona qualifying race victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
Despite a single-file train forming up for most of the second half, Bell got a shove from his Toyota teammate Bubba Wallace coming to the white flag, allowing him to break up the Ford juggernaut up front and take a run at Logano coming down to the finish.
Bell flared to the outside coming through turns three and four, but couldn’t side-draft Logano enough to steal the glory at the flagstand. Logano hung on to win the first Duel by .018 seconds in the No. 22 Ford.
“The execution of this race is everything, because you know most likely there won’t be a caution, so you’ve got to do a good job on pit road and cycle yourself to the front. But then I was sitting there as the leader and I thought, ‘Man, I am a sitting duck. This is not where I want to be,’” Logano noted after the race. “I was hoping they’d start racing back there, which they did, which ended up kind of working out for me.
“When the 20 [Bell] got to me, I saw [Ryan] Blaney was behind me, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s my buddy. I’ve got to stick with him,’” Logano added. “I knew the 20 would make the run to the outside, and I probably wasn’t going to be able to defend that, so I just waited for the 12 to push me through there.
“Good Penske effort there to get a Duel win; it was much better than what happened last year here.”
By virtue of his Duel victory, Logano will line up third for Sunday’s 65th Daytona 500.
After leading 30 of the first 31 laps, Blaney crossed the finish line third in the first Duel while pushing his Team Penske teammate to the checkered flag, with 2022 Duel winner Chris Buescher finishing fourth ahead of 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell.
Kevin Harvick, who took the white flag in second, faded to sixth. Wallace was seventh and Zane Smith, the top finishing non-chartered entry in the first Duel, came home eighth to make his first Daytona 500.
Smith, the reigning NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, will drive the No. 36 Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports in Sunday’s Great American Race.
Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith, who battled power issues during qualifying on Wednesday and was hit with a pit road speeding penalty in Thursday’s first Duel, failed to make the field for the Daytona 500.
Seven-time Cup Series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who was already locked into the race based on his qualifying time, finished 14th.
The second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona will go green shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET, live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.