(Daytona Beach, Fla.) - While the second Gatorade Duel 150 was not as close a finish as the first, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart did their best to make it so. Earlier in the day, Jimmie Johnson edged Kevin Harvick by just 0.005 seconds – the second closest since electronic scoring was implemented in 1993.
The second 150-mile qualifying race was much more aggressive than the day’s earlier race, but featured just one single-car incident. Within the first few laps of the 60-lap event the field broke into two- and three-wide racing throughout the entire pack.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the race early, but battled hard with Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya. Much like the first race, the high line around the 2.5-mile speedway was the way to go, but once the Penske teammates of Keselowski and Busch pushed their way to the front it was the bottom side that had the momentum.
Looking to get in the action with his teammates up front, Sam Hornish Jr. sliced and diced his way through the field, ruffling a few feathers along the way. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s spotter, T.J. Majors, radioed his driver warning, “That 77 (Hornish) is dying to get up there and tear it up.” After a number of close calls, Hornish was forced to the garage with an engine issue late in the race.
When David Gilliland brought out the event’s only caution on Lap 26 the field headed to pit road for service. Kenseth won the race off, while the No. 88 crew went to work pulling out fenders. The lengthy stop upset their driver as he was hoping to race for the win.
After the stops, Kahne’s No. 9 Ford came to life, but it was Kurt Busch who remained the car to beat. With a nice push from fellow Ford driver Matt Kenseth, Kahne was able to power around the outside of Busch’s Dodge as they headed into the first turn.
As the laps clicked away, Tony Stewart moved his No. 14 Chevrolet into the lead after a slow start to the event. With two laps remaining a strong push from Busch put Kahne out front once again. With Montoya tucked behind him on the high side, Stewart made his move for the win through the final two corners.
Coming through the tri-oval Montoya abandoned the back bumper of Stewart as he contemplated going three-wide for the lead. The move killed Stewart’s push and allowed Kahne to win by only 0.014 seconds.
“I pushed (Tony) to the front and from there Kurt pushed me hard,” Kahne said. “I had an open shot to get by him and it ended up close. It was closer than I thought at the line. Cole, my spotter, said ‘Good job.’ I couldn’t tell if I won or not, so once he told me I was pretty happy.”
As Kahne celebrated the victory, Mike Bliss and Tommy Baldwin Racing relished in the fact they had raced their way into Sunday’s race. A wreck in practice Wednesday forced the team to pull out a back-up, but the determination of Bliss behind the wheel during Thursday’s Duel made up for the extra work.
Also racing his way into the 500 was Red Bull Racing’s Scott Speed. Finishing in the 14th spot, Speed was not thrilled with his performance, but happy about what his result meant – fellow Toyota driver Michael Waltrip was going to make the Daytona 500.
Since Speed’s qualifying time was good enough to get in the show already, by finishing in one of the transfer spots the next fastest qualifier outside the top-35 was guaranteed a spot in the field. After wrecking his car in the day’s first race, Waltrip nervously watched as his fate lay in the hands of either Speed or Labonte.
“I figured when I woke up this morning I’d be crying before the day was over,” Waltrip admitted. “I just didn’t know if it would be because I was happy or because I was sad. And then I damn sure didn’t know it would be both within an hour of each other.”
While Waltrip was in seventh heaven, a host of other drivers and teams were forced to pack up their equipment and head back to the shop. Casey Mears, David Gilliland, Derrike Cope, Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Mike Wallace and Norm Benning all failed to make the Daytona 500 in the second Duel race.
Bobby Labonte is locked into the race thanks to the Past Champion provisional.