What should have been a tune-up for the Daytona 500 might have cost Hendrick Motorsports the front row for NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.
Alex Bowman and William Byron were slated to lead the Daytona 500 field to green but that’s in danger following Thursday night’s qualifying races. Bowman had an engine problem in the first 150-mile race and, if his motor needs to be changed, he’ll forfeit Sunday’s pole.
Byron was collected in a crash in the second Duel and it ruined his Chevrolet. He needs to move to a backup car for the 500 and the swap sends him to the back of the field.
“Bummer,” Byron said. “Man the thing was fast.”
Aric Almirola won the first race. After a rain delay pushed the second Duel into a Friday morning finish, Austin Dillon used a cross-over move on Bubba Wallace to beat Wallace to the checkered flag.
Almirola in a Ford is slated to start behind Byron but will slide up to the front row when Byron falls to the back. Dillon in a Chevrolet will wait to see if Hendrick changes Bowman’s engine this weekend.
Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala both earned their first berths into the Daytona 500 by claiming the two available transfer positions in the Duels. Ty Dillon, Timmy Hill, Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson all failed to advance.
Smithley and Gragson were racing each other for the transfer spot in the second race when Smithley tried to duck around Gragson. Brad Keselowski on his outside wasn’t expecting Smithley to fill the gap and the two collided, starting a wreck that eliminated both Smithley and Gragson.
Byron also was caught in that crash.
Bowman sensed a problem with his engine and rather than push it too far, he drove to pit road during the first race to give his No. 48 crew a chance to save his pole-winning run.
“I don’t want to keep running it,” Bowman radioed.
The team got his car back on track but must decide if it needs to make a pre-emptive engine change or gamble the one in the car now can go the distance Sunday. Winning the 500 pole is prestigious but actual starting position matters very little in a 500-mile race at Daytona.