The Gatorade Duels at Daytona are two qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500. During qualifying last Sunday, the pole position and second starting spot were the only spots that were set. You take all the odd number qualifying positions and they race in a 150 mile qualifying race. You then take the even number qualifying positions and they race in a 150 mile qualifying race. The position you finish in the race, is your starting position on the inside row for the first Duel race, and the outside row for the second Duel race. The races also provide the opportunity for go or go homers to qualify for the race as well. Two of these drivers from each race get into the field for the Daytona 500.

Duel one starts with Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to the rear of the field because of going to the backup car. On the second lap, Ryan Newman spins out of turn two when he and his owner Tony Stewart did not line up on the backend of the car precisely. No damage to the car and Tony did nothing on purpose to spin his employee and teammate.

Eight laps into the race. Two cars have broken away from the pack and have about a two second lead. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart seem to have been able stay nose to tail longer than what I thought was going to be possible. They have now swapped positions. The positions get swapped, and the rest of the field is able to come back to the leaders.

NASCAR is getting what it wants with the grill opening and radiator changes. Cars stay hooked up too long, the car begins to overheat. You have to duck out and not run nose to tail in order to let the water temperature cool down. This is going to make for interesting strategy come Sunday.

Why does Darrell Waltrip always have to somehow work Earnhardt Jr. into almost every comment?

Pretty good crowd on hand for the Duels today. Not a sell out by any means, but would not expect it to be. Weather looks beautiful in Florida today and probably brought some extra folks to the track.

Halfway point of Duel 1. Decent racing going on so far with the only caution being very early in the race with Newman’s spin. Two car packs still seem to be the order of the day. If you do not have a dance partner, you are not going to get to the front of the pack. A lot of cars have made runs to the front. It seems that Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Regan Smith have spent a lot of time right around the lead. Pit stops coming soon. Most drivers want to stop without changing tires. Have to make sure they do not flat spot the tires when slowing to enter pit road. I forgot to include earlier as well that Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth have spent considerable time at the front.

Pit stops have been completed. Cars went forty to forty-one laps on a tank of fuel. Only a handful of cars took two tires on the stops. No one seemed to have too big of an issue during the pit stops. Keep in mind as well that the pit crews no longer use a catch can man. The fuel can now recovers any extra fuel that cannot fit into the gas tank of the car.

With seven laps to go, there have been 18 lead changes in Duel 1. That is a new record for lead changes in the 150 mile distance duel races. Two races on the new surface so far, and two lead change records have fallen.

Five laps to go and the caution comes out. The 66 car of Michael McDowell has blown an engine. McDowell will not finish the race, and will not be seen in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Green white checker finish for Duel race 1. Lead with one to go was Kurt Busch being pushed by Regan Smith. Great racing on the last laps, side by side with two car packs racing all over the track. Kurt Busch wins the race with Smith finishing second. Smith tried all sides and gave Busch all he could handle at the end. Regan did not push the envelope like he would at the end of a points race, but it was a great effort. J.J. Yeley and Bill Elliot race their way into the Daytona 500 form the first race. With Elliot racing his way in, Michael Waltrip is now guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 on his qualifying speed.

Let me throw out a quick observation while waiting for Duel 2 to get started. The first race had two cautions and it was a fairly calm race. There was no big accident associated with the two cautions in the first race. My prediction in the second race is that we will see more aggressive driving, and more cars involved in each caution. By the end of this recap, we will know if I am correct.

Duel 2 is now underway with Jeff Gordon leading them to the green flag. Just a reminder that Jeff Gordon is locked into the second starting position when the race begins on Sunday. Gordon jumped high and picked up Trevor Bayne, and they instantly drop towards the back of the field. Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton hook up and go to the lead.

Caution comes out on lap three of Duel 2. Casey Mears hand grenades his second engine of the week and his day is over before he could really show what he could do. Not only is Mears’ day over on the track, his team will pack up the car in the hauler and will not be seen in the Daytona 500.

Darrell Waltrip reports “this track has more grip than Spiderman right now”.

Gordon and Bayne are back at the front with Jeff Gordon taking the lead. Lap 16 and the caution is out. favorite Baby Joey Logano is bumped from behind by Michael Waltrip and barely catches the inside retaining wall. Baby Joey’s day ends with a destroyed front end, and will most likely require the backup car to come off the hauler. Waltrip did not do anything wrong in this accident. Waltrip and Baby Joey caught cars in front of them quickly, and Baby Joey had nowhere to go. Baby Joey slowed down and Waltrip spun his out. Only 43 laps to go, all the cars hit pit road to get fuel to take them to the end of the race.

Halfway through Duel 2. Much of the same racing we saw in Duel 1. Two car hook ups are dominating, and that is the only way you get to the front. More than two car packs do not move towards the front. The thing I do not understand is that Bayne is able to stay behind Gordon without having heating issued. Bayne does move the nose out to clean air at times, but they have not swapped positions. I am sure NASCAR is not happy with that.

Caution is out for the third time with Brad Keselowski spinning the Miller Lite Blue Duece. Brad was bump drafted getting into the corner and spins across the turn and into the grass. Damage to the front end, and Brad will be able to complete the rest of the race. Damage appears to be fixable to keep this as him primary car for Sunday.

Caution four comes out on lap 47 when Denny Hamlin spins off of turn two. Hamlin was spun by teammate Kyle Busch in the M and M’s car. Another example of not done on purpose, but cars locked bumper to bumper.

Caution number five comes out on lap 54 with a wreck involving Todd Bodine and Stephen Wallace. Wallace bumped Bodine from behind and Bodine got loose and lost control of the car. Bodine will load the car up on the hauler and head home, Wallace may need a backup car. Too close to call on that. David Reutimann also has damage on the driver’s side door. This was one of those coming down to the end of the race deals.

New record for lead changes in this race, best Duel 1, 22 lead changes with a handful of laps to go.

Last lap being led by Jeff Burton being pushed by Clint Bowyer. Jeff Burton wins the race, wreck back in the pack. Trevor Bayne wrecks a thousand feet before the start finish line. Jeff Gordon got bumped by Bayne and got loose and slapped the wall, and then came down on Bayne. Bayne spun and hit Gordon in the door. David Ragan got into it as well, and destroyed the front end of his car in the wall. Would not be surprised to see Gordon go to a backup car.

Transferring to the Daytona 500 from Duel 2 was Brian Keselowski (Giving us brothers in the race) and Micheal Waltrip. Although Micheal was already in the race on speed, he qualifies towards the front of the field by racing his way in.

I won’t say my earlier prediction about a wilder race was true, but it was closer to what we will see on Sunday than what we saw in Duel 1.

Although the races were interesting and fun to watch today, we did not see the true intensity from the drivers that we are going to see on Sunday. So who is going to win on Sunday is now the question. There is no real telling on what is going to happen on Sunday. Roll the dice and make a pick. If you do have a pick, login to our site with your Facebook account and leave a comment about who is going to win on Sunday. We would love to hear from you.

Don’t forget to check back Friday night for the recap of the Camping World Truck race. We will also have coverage of the Nation Wide Series race on Saturday. Remember to follow us on Twitter as well: @troubleinturntwo and @herdanicaship.

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