Aric Almirola Wins Dual At Daytona #2 Thursday Night; Will Start 500 Sunday From Fourth
Story By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Florida native Aric Almirola won Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona qualifying race two at Daytona International Speedway Thursday night – the event setting the starting order for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
It was a Ford sweep at Daytona as Joey Logano won the first. However, the two races played out very differently.
Almirola led only 17 laps but took the lead for good in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford with two laps remaining and held off fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric and Chase Elliott by a slight .122-second in a race that featured more drama; two caution periods including one that ultimately took out the dominant car.
Kyle Busch led the most laps (28) in the second Duel, but his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was hit from behind by Daniel Suarez’s No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet and wrecked from the lead with 18 laps remaining.
“Lots of pushing and shoving,” Busch said afterward, hopeful the team could repair the car and not have to go to a back-up for the DAYTONA 500 on Sunday.
“Doing everything you can to hang on and do best you can to keep it straight,” Busch said of the incident. “Finally overloaded the left rear and hooked it to the right. Hate it for all my guys. Built a fast Chevy Camaro and was fun to drive. Had a long way to go and don’t understand [this] but it is what it is.”
That six-car accident also damaged Austin Hill’s Chevrolet so badly he had to pull it into the garage. That gave the final DAYTONA 500 transfer position to IndyCar Series regular Conor Daly, whose No. 50 TMT Racing Chevrolet finished the race 17th in the 21-car field, a lap down. The car had a mechanical problem Wednesday night and wasn’t even able to turn a pole qualifying lap.
“Well, we were inherently unlucky for the last 36 hours, but we got lucky,” Daly said. “I wish I could have said that I drove it in on pure pace, but it was just crazy.
“When we went out there, the car was bouncing around. I had no idea what was going on. I thought the drivetrain was broken, and [crew chief] Tony [Eury Jr.] just made it better every time. We got lucky with the yellows to try to get some experience, but it is pretty crazy.
“This race, I’ve watched it for so many years and so much crazy stuff can happen and thankfully we were on the right side of the craziness. It’s pretty amazing.”
“I’m sure none of you expected to see me here, but we changed everything but the car’s color in that race,” Daly told reporters with a smile, noting he already had 170 text messages as he did post-race interviews.
As for Almirola, it marks his second Duel victory, the fourth for his Stewart-Haas Racing team. The Tampa, Fla. native – who originally announced he was going to retire at the end of the 2022 season only to re-commit to the team – earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway in the 2014 summer race.
“I did have my hands full,” Almirola said, adding, “But man, this is so cool. Daytona is such a special place to me. I grew up sitting I those grandstands dreaming about racing here. I want that one on Sunday (Daytona 500) though. …. I know Sunday’s the big one, we’re going to keep focused on that one. The job’s not finished.”
The 40-car field is now set for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 including the “open cars” of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and action star Travis Pastrana who both advanced based on qualifying speed. It will mark the NASCAR Cup Series debut for Pastrana, who was also among those collected in the second race’s six-car accident.
“Learned a lot about where the car works,” Pastrana said of his No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota. “I think we’ll still be able to run that same car, I just didn’t get it slowed down quite in time to avoid the chaos right in front me.
“We were just kind of running in the back and watching everything that was happening, seeing which lanes worked, how my car worked best. It was a lot of fun. Super intense those first couple laps. … but that was a great time.”
NASCAR Cup Series Race – Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at DAYTONA
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Thursday, February 16, 2023
1. (2) Aric Almirola, Ford, 60.
2. (4) Austin Cindric, Ford, 60.
3. (7) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 60.
4. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 60.
5. (20) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 60.
6. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 60.
7. (17) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 60.
8. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 60.
9. (13) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 60.
10. (8) Ryan Preece, Ford, 60.
11. (14) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 60.
12. (6) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 60.
13. (10) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 60.
14. (15) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 60.
15. (3) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 60.
16. (18) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 60.
17. (21) Conor Daly(i), Chevrolet, 59.
18. (16) Austin Hill(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 41.
19. (5) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 40.
20. (19) Riley Herbst(i), Ford, Accident, 40.
21. (12) Travis Pastrana, Toyota, Accident, 40.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 151.813 mph.
Time of Race: 0 Hrs, 59 Mins, 17 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.122 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 2 for 9 laps.
Lead Changes: 15 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 1;A. Almirola 2-4;K. Larson 5;A. Almirola 6-10;K. Larson 11;K. Busch 12-13;K. Larson 14;K. Busch 15-40;D. Suarez 41-42;K. Larson 43-45;A. Almirola 46;K. Larson 47-48;A. Almirola 49-54;A. Cindric 55-57;T. Gilliland 58;A. Almirola 59-60.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 2 times for 28 laps; Aric Almirola 5 times for 17 laps; Kyle Larson 6 times for 9 laps; Austin Cindric 1 time for 3 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 2 laps; Todd Gilliland 1 time for 1 lap.