Elliott, Hamlin win Can Am Duels ahead of Daytona 500

Hendrick Motorsports dominates the night after claiming the front row for Daytona, but Hamlin steals the second duel from Earnhardt

Peter Casey—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott (24) celebrates winning during the Can-Am Duel at Daytona 1 at Daytona International Speedway.

Midway through the second Can Am Duel, it appeared Hendrick Motorsports might have all four cars in the top three rows. Following a win for Chase Elliott in the first duel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne trailing him with 30 laps remaining.Then it all went south.David Ragan made contact with Johnson, sending him careening into Ryan Blaney, who slammed into the wall. Kahne moved up to second, but would eventually fall back. As for Johnson, he would blow out a right rear tire just a few laps later, crashing into the wall and to the back of the pack.As for Earnhardt, he would maintain the lead until there were two laps remaining. With a little too much room between Junior and Denny Hamlin, the defending Daytona 500 champion would close the gap and get side-by-side with Hamlin.The pass for the W. #NASCARonFS1 pic.twitter.com/JDAqp7yFyq— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 24, 2017
With Austin Dillon in the No. 3 car behind Hamlin, he at first dropped down with the No. 88, but opted to return to the No. 11’s bumper, boosting him to the lead. Earnhardt would free fall from there to finish sixth, but it wouldn’t mean much with his second-place starting position already locked in.”I don’t know what I could have done differently,” Earnhardt said. “I was doing what I could do to keep the lead.”Team owner Rick Hendrick pointed out Dillon’s move left a fellow Chevrolet high and dry — and that’s not even mentioning the symbolism of the No. 3 car abandoning Earnhardt Jr.”I think the No. 3 car forgot he was driving a Chevrolet,” Hendrick said over the radio.Meanwhile, Hamlin earns another comfortable starting position at fourth on Sunday. The JGR driver started 11th last season before eventually pulling a similar side draft move on Martin Truex Jr. to win his first Daytona 500 by 0.010 seconds at the line.Elliott fell behind in the first duel after starting from the pole. The No. 24 machine dropped off almost immediately, relinquishing the lead to Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who traded off the top spot until the scheduled caution on Lap 25.Following the caution, Elliott proved he’s learned from last year’s experience to charge back to the front. The sophomore driver put on some slick moves at the front of the pack to hold off Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray in the final laps to stake his claim again for the pole position on Sunday.”Oh, man we had such a fast NAPA Chevy tonight,” Elliott said. “I didn’t think anybody was going to help us there at the first part of the race and I had a couple good pushes to get us out front and our spotter did a great job on the roof making sure he was calling the lanes correctly and we were able to get back in front.”Coming off a year where he challenged for wins in several races but always fell short, Elliott winning a qualifying race was a huge confidence boost for himself and his team.”I just had a lot of steam under the hood,” said Elliott after the victory. “The temperatures tonight being kind of cool it really suited our car well. Just a great way to start the season. I know it’s just a Duel win. We wished it counted towards the Playoffs. We would rather it be on Sunday, but at the same time it means a lot to me. It means a lot to our team.”Here’s the full starting order for the Daytona 500 following the Can Am Duels:
Chase ElliottDale Earnhardt Jr.Jamie McMurrayDenny HamlinKevin HarvickClint BowyerBrad KeselowskiKurt BuschMatt KensethAJ AllmendingerTrevor BayneAustin DillonMartin Truex Jr.Danica PatrickAric AlmirolaRyan NewmanJoey LoganoKyle LarsonCole WhittTy DillonDaniel SuarezDavid RaganKyle BuschMichael McDowellRicky Stenhouse Jr.Jimmie JohnsonMatt DiBenedettoKasey KahneLandon CassillDJ KenningtonChris BuescherMichael WaltripJoey GaseJeffrey EarnhardtCorey LaJoieErik JonesPaul MenardRyan BlaneyBrendan GaughanElliott Sadler