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Stewart, Kenseth Win Duel Races at Daytona

McDowell, Gordon, Blaney and Nemechek Race Way into Daytona 500

Tony Stewart took the victory in Duel 1. Photo by Lesley Ann Miller/LAT PhotographicEscaping an attempted block from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth took the lead on the final lap of the second of two Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races Thursday at Daytona International Speedway and held off Regan Smith for the win.

Tony Stewart won the first Duel under caution, a half-lap after Danica Patrick took a vicious hit against the inside wall on the backstretch.

In a caution-free race, Kenseth, the 2009 Daytona 500 winner, claimed the first Duel victory ever for Roush Fenway Racing. Smith came home second, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Elliott Sadler and pole-sitter Greg Biffle.

Stewart earned his 15th victory at Daytona in NASCAR's top two series combined, including three in Duel races, three in the Budweiser Shootout, three in the July Sprint Cup race and six in the Nationwide Series. Counting two wins in IROC competition, Stewart has 17 stock-car wins at Daytona, second on the all-time list.

Stewart, the reigning Cup champion, will attempt to win the Daytona 500 for the first time Sunday. Thursday's victory was his first with crew chief Steve Addington, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing during the offseason.

The caution flew after Stewart had led the field to the white flag, with race runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. in hot pursuit. Contact from Aric Almirola's Ford launched Patrick's Chevrolet toward the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch, and impact with the wall was hard enough to lift all four wheels of Patrick's car off the pavement.

Matt Kenseth celebrates his victory in Duel 2. Photo by Lesley Ann Miller/LAT PhotographicDave Blaney and Joe Nemechek transferred into the Daytona 500 with 12th and 17th-place finishes in the second Duel. Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon finished sixth and ninth, respectively, in the first qualifying race to earn spots in Sunday's 54th running of The Great American Race.

Marcos Ambrose ran third in the first Duel after regaining a lost lap under a late caution, followed by Jeff Burton in fourth with pole-sitter Carl Edwards coming home fifth.

Stewart had led 10 consecutive laps when Michael Waltrip returning to the track after pitting for a splash of fuel, shot up the banking and into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 53, simultaneously destroying his No. 40 Toyota and his prospects of racing in his 26th consecutive Daytona 500.

Stewart will start third in the 500, with Earnhardt set to roll off fifth. Patrick will start from the rear of the field in a backup car. Kenseth earned the fourth starting position on the Daytona 500 grid, with Smith set to take the green flag from the sixth position.

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