Coming off of turn four on the final lap of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona International Speedway, it looked like Ty Dillon had a starting spot in the Daytona 500 locked up. Bu then, things got chaotic as Denny Hamlin putted on fumes and other drivers jockeyed for the win in the Duel.
Dillon’s bottom lane got their draft broken up, which allowed Ryan Preece to surge past Ty Dillon to finish fifth and give him the top Open car spot in the Duel.
Here is video of the final lap of the race:
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 12, 2021
Preece had already secured his place in the field with his qualifying time on Wednesday, but by being the highest finishing car without a Charter in Duel 1, that means Preece no longer needed to lean on his qualifying time, which opened up a starting spot for Team Penske’s Austin Cindric by way of qualifying speed.
Cindric’s hopes of making the 500 looked shaky, to say the least. He sped on pit road around the mid-way point of the race and lost a lap as a result. Cindric is just happy to have the opportunity to make his first NASCAR Cup Series start on Sunday.
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, first of all I get the bonehead of the race award for speeding in the last section of pit road, when I nailed everything else the whole night that I didn’t know how to do,” Cindric explained. “So, my guys get a shot to punch me wherever they want to. I’m obviously really happy to get the Verizon 5G Mustang into the big show, obviously. A lot left for me to learn, but racing on the biggest stage against the best drivers is an amazing opportunity.”
By finishing sixth in his Duel and just missing out on the Daytona 500, this snaps a six-year streak of Dillon running in The Great American race. This is the second-consecutive year that Gaunt Brothers Racing has missed the big show. But the nature of how they missed the race was devastating for Dillon.
“It hurts for sure. It’s been just unique this off-season for me with the ups and downs,” Dillon said. “It’s a blessing to get to drive a race car in NASCAR first of all and you get so close to being in the Daytona 500 again. It’s tough. I have to thank Johnny Morris and Marty Gaunt, Toyota. This is the opportunity of a lifetime to continue to drive race cars. I believe in myself that I can get it done in these races and to finish sixth and not get any reward for it is hard. I’ll get the great reward of spending time with my kids on Sunday and we’ll probably watch the race. It definitely hurts.”
Aric Almirola won the Duel and will start Sunday’s Daytona 500 from the third position. Christopher Bell finished second, Ryan Newman was third, Joey Logano finished fourth and Preece was fifth.
There was also drama for Daytona 500 pole-winner Alex Bowman. His No. 48 car felt like it had an engine going sour, so he brought the car to the attention of his pit crew. But whatever the issue was, it seemed to get ironed out as he finished 20th, four laps off the pace.
Cole Custer will have to drop to the rear of the Daytona 500 field on the start of the race after his No. 41 team had to pull out the backup car. Custer crashed on the final lap of Duel No. 1.
Backup car coming off the hauler for Custer as he suffered damage on the last lap. pic.twitter.com/P9XKKY4AyJ
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 12, 2021
Timmy Hill, like Dillon, failed to make the Daytona 500 and will head home early.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.