Florida native Aric Almirola drove to a convincing victory in the opening Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona qualifying race Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford led a dominating 52 of the 60 laps and held off Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota by a mere .041-seconds for the Tampa native’s first victory in the DAYTONA 500 field-setting race.
Ryan Newman, who was involved in a frightening last lap crash in last year’s Daytona 500, finished third, followed by Joey Logano and Ryan Preece, whose fifth place effort was important regarding the transfer positions into the 40-car Daytona 500 lineup.
The Fords – specifically Almirola – dominated Duel 1, spending most of the race bumper-to-bumper in varying order out front. Almirola and Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, ran 1-2 for most of the race. There were nine lead changes among five drivers.
As racing resumed at Daytona International Speedway following a two-hour plus rain delay Thursday night, there was a definitive sense of urgency in the field for the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at Daytona as the clock passed midnight.
While the Toyota contingent of Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch pushed to the front on the restart with two laps remaining in overtime, it was Austin Dillon – with a well-timed shove from former teammate Kevin Harvick – who rallied to the front, dropped low on Wallace and then won the drag race to the checkered flag for his first career Duel victory – a mere .057-seconds over Wallace.
It is the first Daytona qualifying race Dillon has won and he did it leading the only two laps on the night, lap 33 and then the last lap (63). It was similar to what he did in winning the 2018 Daytona 500 in the famed Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet when he led only the last lap – finishing a quarter-second ahead of Wallace then too.