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Davidson: NASCAR Duels at Daytona

Concord, NC, Feb 11/21 (by John Davidson): 2021 continued the global restrictions on crowds and travel, but the NASCAR season opened at Daytona as usual with the Clash, run Tuesday night with Kyle Busch taking candy from the two youngsters Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney after they got together in the last turn of the last lap, then the qualifying for the front row positions on Wednesday night, with the pole going to Alex Bowman in the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy, flanked by the winner of the most recent Cup race at Daytona, fellow Hendrick driver William Byron.

The first of the Cup Bluegreen Vacations Duels went off with Bowman and Aric Almirola on the front row, but Bowman is assured of the pole position on Sunday (unless he opts for a back-up car. Ed).

Almirola edged in front of Bowman to head the first lap, then finally got a clean lead on the second lap.

After 60 laps of clean racing, Aric Almirola used a draft from Christopher Bell to side draft around Joey Logano for the win in Duel 1, followed by Bell, Ryan Newman, Logano and Ryan Preece who raced his way into the 500. Ty Dillon finished sixth, but Austin Cindric, finishing 16th and a lap down, will race in the big show on his time trials result while Dillon has to sit out the race.

Before the second field could even be completely aligned on pit road for the pace laps, a Florida rainstorm drenched the track, leading to an extended drying effort.

Following a long delay for the track to be dried, the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel went green with William Byron leading the first laps, chased in turn by Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, and a two-wide pack of the rest of the field. Garrett Smithley, Kaz Grala and Noah Gragson are the three drivers who need to race into the Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney drafted around Byron with Byron, Keselowski and Blaney all fighting for the third spot as the outside line eased ahead of the inner line.

Bubba Wallace led a lap thanks to a bump draft from Byron then Byron moved to the inside line, leaving Wallace hung in the middle lane and fading back to 14th in less than one lap.

The two-wide draft of the first Duel was not repeated in the second race; a few laps before halfway the field strung out single file until a small pack dropped to the inner lane, headed by Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace with a good push from Chase Elliott. The inside line looked ready to push Blaney into the lead but Byron dropped down a lane and held onto the lead at the halfway mark. Austin Dillon took the lead in the outer lane, then dropped in front of Byron and Kevin Harvick moved into the lead. With pit stops looming, a crash on the back straight involving a spin by Chase Briscoe that included Anthony Alfredo, Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley brought out the first caution of the night, allowing pit stops under caution instead of green flag conditions. Blaney 'won' the race off pit road, followed by Harvick and Byron.

Now Harvick headed the outer lane with a draft from Martin Truex to move into the lead then moved down in front of the inner lane. Garrett Smithley moved to the middle of the track, with Keselowski moving up slightly, spinning Keselowski, Byron, Chastain and Noah Gragson, sending the race into overtime – and the likelihood of backup cars for Sunday's Daytona 500. Notably, it looked like Byron, who had won a front-row starting spot in the previous day’s qualifying runs, given the damage in this race, would need to go to a backup car and, if so, he would be sent to the back for the start of Sunday’s race.

Truex, Wallace and Kyle Busch moved into a Toyota top-three draft, then Truex got trapped into the center lane, falling back to twelfth as Austin Dillon got a big push from Harvick, sweeping around Wallace for the win in the second Duel.

Dillon's win was the first win for a Richard Childress No. 3 car since Dale Earnhardt Sr's tenth consecutive Duel victory.

• CLICK Here for results:
• Results of Duel #1
• Results of Duel #2

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