Stewart, Kenseth win Daytona duels

Tony Stewart celebrates NASCAR Sprint Cup duel qualifying victory for the Daytona 500 at the...

Tony Stewart celebrates NASCAR Sprint Cup duel qualifying victory for the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. (JOE SKIPPER/Reuters)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:03 AM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - Tony Stewart will start third in the Daytona 500 with Matt Kenseth starting fourth after both won their NASCAR Sprint Cup Gatorade Duels on Thursday to set the final grid for the Great American Race on Sunday.

The front row of Carl Edwards on the pole in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford and teammate Greg Biffle beside him in the No. 16 RFR Ford was set in the first round of qualifying last Sunday.

Stewart won the first of the Duels in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet under caution after his teammate Danica Patrick crashed her No. 10 SHR Chevrolet on the last lap.

Kenseth, in the No. 17 RFR Ford passed his teammate Biffle on the final lap of his Duel for the win.

Stewart, who has won 17 times on the high banks of Daytona, has only one goal left — to finally win the Daytona 500.

“Well, I mean, obviously the fact that we’ve won 17 times here and not won on the right day is proof it’s no guarantee obviously,” he said. “But it’s nice to win here ... it gives you confidence going into Sunday.”

Stewart thinks he now has a psychological advantage heading into the big race.

He said that being so fast all week at the 2.5 mile superspeedway has not been lost on the competition.

“I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed,” Stewart said. “I want those guys to see that we’ve got strength. That’s a really strong point.

“I think it’s an advantage to do that at this point of the game.”

Kenseth got a push from an unlikely source — five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet — to give team owner Jack Roush his first Duel victory in 25 years coming to Daytona.

“Jimmie gave me a huge push there and that really worked nice for me,” Kenseth said. “Without that push it would have never gotten done.

“Greg had lost his drafting partner and we had such a huge run that Greg was kind of a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie’s push that we were able to make it past.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second behind Stewart in the first race and that raised the spectre that he could end his more than three-year winless streak. He had won the pole last year in the No. 88 Chevrolet, but had to go to a back-up car after wrecking in final practice.

“I feel good about running second, and bringing home a car in one piece,” he said. “Hopefully we will get through the next couple of days without any troubles as far as we don’t want to pull out a back-up. We want to start the 500 with this car.”

Sunday’s race will certainly be a much different animal than what fans saw last season with two-by-two tandem racing.

Edwards, looking for his first Daytona 500, said that if Sunday’s race is anything like Thursday’s Duels, fans are in for a treat.

“It was crazy,” he said. “We are going to have fun (on Sunday). It is going to be a good race. I am glad we got through all this and we are starting on the pole. I got a ton of experience today and we are accomplishing our goals.”

The other big winners in the Duels were the four drivers who made Sunday’s 500 miler based on their finishes Thursday.

Dave Blaney — who had given his guaranteed starting spot to Patrick — and Joe Nemechek get in with 12th and 17th-place finishes in the second Duel.

Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon finished sixth and ninth, respectively, in the first Duel race to earn their way in as well.

Michael Waltrip — a two time Daytona 500 winner — will miss the race after wrecking his No. 40 Toyota.

FINISH LINES

In his first practice in the No. 60 Turn One Racing Chevrolet Silverado Thursday J.R. Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., was ninth fastest in preparation for Friday’s Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 with a lap of 181.580 m.p.h. Calgary’s Wheeler Boys was 37th fastest of 40 cars at 170.883 m.p.h. in the No. 74 Silverado. Fastest on the day was Timothy Peters in the No. 17 Toyota Tundra at 185.578 m.p.h. ... Robby Gordon indicated after the race that if Michael Waltrip wanted to buy his way in to the Daytona 500 that Gordon would be a seller. The price tag: Probably about $300,000.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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