DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Night time is the right time for racing and on Thursday night, we set the field for Sunday’s 64th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). Here are my main takeaways from the two 150-mile twin races.
Good Week For New Teams So Far
Last October, Team Hezeberg announced their intention to field a NASCAR Cup Series team for the 2022 season. They’d run part-time and likely do so in the road courses. But, with securing a driver like Jacques Villeneuve, they took part in the January test session here and with all eyes on returning to Speedweeks to make their Cup debut.
They’re not the only team making their debut this week. So is The Money Team. Floyd Mayweather wanted to join the fray last year but nothing came to fruition. It was getting late in the game but just a few weeks ago, they finalized their plans and would join Daytona too with Kaz Grala.
Also, so is the NY Racing Team and Greg Biffle. While they’ve been around before, this was their first time back in years. They’re doing so as an open team and one that just received their car six days ago.
These three teams were 50% of the open cars field. Six cars entered and two would go home. Would it be these two of these three?
Villeneuve qualified his way in on speed during qualifying on Wednesday night while Grala and Biffle raced their ways in on Thursday night.
It’s big to get new teams wanting to get involved in the sport and to get two open teams that are competing without a charter race in Sunday’s Daytona 500 is big for each of their growth to stay here for the foreseeable future.
On the other side of the coin, you have the brand new RFK Racing for which Brad Keselowski bought into Roush Fenway Racing and joined the team as a driver as well. He’d win the first Duel while his teammate Chris Buescher won Duel No. 2.
RFK Racing had two wins in over 270 starts prior to Thursday night and here they win two races in a matter of hours.
The two Duels once again wrapped up fairly quickly. Duel 1 lasted 48-minutes and 36-seconds. Duel 2 went from green flag to checkered flag in nearly identical fashion going the distance in 48-minutes and 23-seconds too.
That makes 13 of the last 14 Duels to have run to completion in less than one hour including 19 of the last 22. In fact, the longest Duel since 2009 lasted 1-hour, 8-minutes and 25-seconds.
The two in 2019 lasted 50-minutes and 38-seconds (Duel 1) and 46-minutes and 36-seconds (Duel 2). The two in 2020 were completed in 54-minutes and 9-seconds (Duel 1) and 52-minutes and 38-seconds (Duel 2).
Last year, it was 46-minues and 53-seconds (Duel 1) and 59-minutes and 47-seconds (Duel 2).
Tame Races, Is It Time To Change Up The Duels?
Some may say that the pair of 150-mile qualifying races were less than ideal under the lights at the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday. Did both races going caution free and running to completion in less than an hour give enough to fulfill the largest Duels crowd in years? Did race fans go away wanting more?
I have a feeling that answer is, no.
Part of that is due to a few factors. One is the parts and car shortage. That’s a real dilemma down here this week. This has been one of the larger topics of conversation outside of the Next Gen car. How will Thursday night’s Duels look?
This has been one of the larger topics of conversation outside of the Next Gen car. How will Thursday night’s Duels look? What’s the risk vs. reward and does the risk outweigh the reward here?
Now we know and what we saw was most of them run single file with no one really wanting to risk tearing up their cars.
Most teams didn’t even bring backup cars down here. The others that did well they didn’t enough for their entire fleet. Not every car for every organization has a backup for it. So, there’s absolutely no way can you risk crash damage.
The other factor in play here is how the charter system is around. 36 cars knew heading into Speedweeks that they’d race in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. After qualifying on Wednesday night, two more joined them.
With only two spots on the line among four drivers in the two Duels, what incentive did the other 38 have to race hard? Why not work in a draft with each other but take care of one another?
They’d do just that.
In saying that, this isn’t the first time this has happened. This isn’t just a one year deal. Most Duels lately have been this way.
In the not so distant past, simulations have led to teams pretty much already knowing what their car has in it for the ‘500. Why wad up a race car when you already pretty much know what you have? With simulations being enhanced and not really very many big swings to the racing package on superspeedway’s from year to year, most teams knew what they wanted out of their race cars come February.
Last year and even in recent memory at that, drivers could get away with running on their own in practice or even with their teammates during those same practice sessions. It was just a few short runs to check ride heights and to confirm what you really already knew the park it until the ‘500. No need to risk anything in the Duels either.
“We have a couple for the four of us. It is a tough thing,” Ryan Blaney said. “Our inventory is not very big currently – no one’s is. It’s been difficult to get parts and pieces, honestly, for the teams to kind of put full things together.
“We used to come down here with one or two backups for each team just in case things happened and now we’re sitting on a couple for your whole organization, so that’s been difficult. You have to have that in the back of your head. From practice last night, ‘OK, how hard do I push my teammate to see what my car will do and what his car will do without possibly wrecking him?’
“And the Duels tomorrow night it’s gonna be the same thing. I feel like guys are gonna be pretty smart on how they race, you would hope so because everyone is kind of sitting in the same boat. But, at the same time, you have teams that need to get in the 500 too that are gonna be racing pretty hard at the end of the Duels to try to get in, so you just have to be aware and observant, but you don’t ever want to wreck your 500 car, let alone when we don’t have many things to spare.”
In saying that, Daytona also won’t require the winning car to be put in Daytona USA afterwards. Due to the limited car supply, teams can’t afford to part ways with a car for an entire year as a result of winning Sunday’s Great American Race. So, for the first time in a long time, Daytona and NASCAR will allow the race winning team to keep the car instead.
So, with that said, due to the limited supply and teams not having full inventories yet, is it worth the risk to do much drafting in the Duels?
“I feel like we’re in a spot where we need to race this car in the 500,” Erik Jones said. “I think most people are in that spot, but I think we’re a little more than some with the parts and pieces and the cars we have lined up going forward from here onto Fontana and on from there.
“We’ll have to race a little bit in the (Duels). From what we’ve talked about, we’re not too concerned where we start in the 500. You can race your way to the front in the 500 if you need to, especially with seeing how these cars draft, the way you can move through the field and things you can do to pick up a lot of speed. I honestly don’t know totally what my approach is going to be yet. It’s going to depend on where we start and where we qualify. I think we’re going to be timid for sure.”
For a race that sees no one wanting to tear up a bunch of equipment ahead of the big prize this weekend, you combine all of these factors and get some likely tame racing for longer spurts.
“Yeah, well that is the race,” Elliott said on making Thursday night’s race a good show for the fans. “That’s part of racing somedays and you either like that or you don’t. I hate to be that way; but at the end of the day, we’re going to do what we feel like is going to give us the best shot to win at the end of the day on Sunday. What that looks like sometimes might not be what people want to see all the time. But that’s just the way it unfolds.
“Would I love to mix it up for 500 miles? Absolutely I would love to put on the most exciting thing ever for four hours. But I also want to win; I want to win worse than I want to just make sure it’s super entertaining. That keeps integrity in our sport and as long as we have integrity in what we do and we all want to win, then I think the fans and the people are going to appreciate it. I think that’s an important piece; just keeping the integrity in what we have going on and making sure everybody still wants to win and make all of those right decisions to put themselves in the right position to do that.”
Something likely needs to be done or this race further gets more and more pointless. Do you move it back to an afternoon weekday event which feels more special or do you leave it in this timeslot?
Nothing needs to be left off the table here.
Ford’s Look Like The Favorites
Ford’s have been arguably the best manufacturer among the three in the NASCAR Cup Series on superspeedway tracks. On Tuesday, they flexed their muscles in going 1-2-3-4-5 in session No. 1 and following that up with being 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 in the second session.
But in qualifying on Wednesday night, it was back to the Chevrolet camp again. On Thursday, we got back to racing action again. The pendulum swung back to the blue ovals.
They swept both races and went 1-2-3-4 in the first race and 1-2-3 in race two in the twin 150-mile qualifying races.
Are they now the favorites for Sunday?
“The 500 will be a lot different than this race,” Keselowski said following his win. “I think the big thing we’re noticing is as the pack increases the cars change pretty dramatically, and then of course on the 500, you’ll have the hotter temperatures because it’ll be during the day. Good Lord willing it doesn’t rain on us, which it looks pretty good for that. That’ll be a whole different set of circumstances that we’ll have to adjust to, but I think I’ve got a really solid team. Most of the team is from the 1 car last year, and they’re built on a really strong foundation. This is something to just keep going from.”
HMS/JGR/Penske Shutout Again
Coming into last year’s Speedweeks’, since 2005, Hendrick, Gibbs and Penske cars had combined to win all but 17 races during Daytona Speedweeks. Furthermore, they’ve won all but five races since 2013 at Daytona in February.
Between the trio of teams, they had won 14 of the last 15 Duels in Daytona. Hendrick has six trips to victory lane in this race since 2013, Gibbs five and Penske three.
HMS also has a record 16 total Duel victories, 11 since 2005 and at least one Duel win in five of the last six years entering 2021. They were the favorites to take a win with the pole in both races.
So was Penske. They’ve got five Duel wins overall, three of which since 2013, but all three coming in the last three years consecutively entering ’21. Ryan Blaney won for Penske in 2018 and Joey Logano in 2019 and again in 2020. Brad Keselowski had actually never won a Duel before with Penske.
JGR had Denny Hamlin landing in victory lane twice since 2014 and Kyle Busch as many times since 2013. But, they’ve not won a Duel since 2017 though as its being all Penske/HMS since.
Kevin Harvick in 2019, Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon last year and now Keselowski/Chris Buescher this year are the lone exceptions.
This has a HMS/JGR/Penske showcase as of late. SHR, RCR and RFK Racing have now joined the party.
Odds and Ends
- Over the last 33 Duels, just once has a pole winner that race won.
- 10 of the last 11 straight Duels have been won from the 3rd starting spot on back.
- 13 of the last 15 Duels have been won from a starting spot in the top 4 Rows (Keselowski was 9th tonight, Buescher 14th)
- 16 of the last 18 Duels in fact have been won from a top 10 starting spot.
- 23 of the last 28 Duels have been won from Row 2 on back
The last Duel winner to win the Daytona 500 was Matt Kenseth in 2012. He’s the only one to do it in the last 16 years. In fact, its only been done just five times since 1996.
“It went from puke to puke, puking nervous to puking excited at the end,” Kaz Grala said after narrowly advanced to the Daytona 500 in Duel 1.