Thursday was a night to remember for RFK Racing. The team, born out of a new partnership between Roush Fenway Racing and Brad Keselowski, enjoyed tremendous success in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel as Keselowski and Chris Buescher won the two races to guarantee second-row starting positions in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The first Duel began with pole winner Kyle Larson on the pole and was a relatively uneventful affair with no cautions. Larson led the first half of the sixty-lap race before pit stops cycled Ryan Blaney into the lead. Keselowski passed his former Penske team-mate on lap 57 and, joined by a contingent of Fords in Blaney, Austin Cindric, and Chase Briscoe, drove off to his first career Duel win. The trio were alumni of Keselowski’s previous ownership venture, Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I felt pretty good about our car in practice on Tuesday,” said Keselowski. “I’ve got to give credit to the other Fords. We worked really well together—Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe. We had great strategy, Austin Cindric, and we stuck together and drove away and got ourselves in position where we could control the finish of this race, and I’m happy to see all those Fords up front. Good job to all those guys.”
Duel #2’s pole sitter was Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman while Buescher was further back in fourteenth. Unlike the first race, the second saw a little more spice as Bowman and Joey Logano repeatedly traded the lead before Buescher seemed to settle into the spot on lap 19. Buescher led before pit stops cycled Logano back into first, though his race ended on the final lap when an aggressive block on the backstretch caused him to spin into the wall. As the caution came out, Buescher snuck by to claim the win and ensure a Duel sweep for RFK.
“It’s not the big show, but we’ve got a really good hot rod here,” Buescher commented.
Since the Duel’s inception in 1959, RFK is the third team to win both races in a single year, joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2014 and Hendrick Motorsports in 2015. RFK last won a Duel as Roush Fenway with Matt Kenseth in 2012.
Further back, Kaz Grala and Greg Biffle secured spots in the Daytona 500. Grala endured a tumultuous Duel #1 in which he was penalised for speeding on pit road before a late rally enabled him to pass J.J. Yeley for eighteenth and the non-charter transfer spot, an experience that he described as going “from puke to puke, puking nervous to puking excited at the end.” Biffle placed thirteenth while his Open rival Timmy Hill finished second-to-last and four laps down, enabling him to easily take the final spot for non-chartered cars.
“I have not slept much in the last couple days just trying to keep a cool composure,” Biffle stated. “I’ve been nervous about this race because there’s so many things that can happen and so many ways it can go. We’ve talked the scenarios all the way, and I watched the first race and I saw the #62 car (Noah Gragson) was in the lead of the cars, and I thought, well, if he finishes in front of those guys and the #50 (Grala) actually runs in the second race, we’ll be in on time. Just figuring all those scenarios.
“But the car drove really, really good. […] We had a little bit of a hiccup trying to put fuel in on pit road and lost the draft, so we were able to kind of work our way back in there. Maybe that was good for us because we missed that wreck towards the end, so we might have been in the middle of that.”
Gragson and Jacques Villeneuve guaranteed their places in the 500 with their qualifying times on Wednesday. To avoid damaging the car, Gragson elected to run at the back for most of the day and therefore finished there, while Villeneuve suffered early electrical trouble that took him out of Duel contention. Still, he’s in the race.
Conversely, MBM Motorsports team-mates Hill and Yeley failed to qualify for the 500, marking the team’s second consecutive year where both cars missed the race.
“Unfortunately the start to the season didn’t go as planned,” posted the team on social media. “With this being a new car our learning curve is bigger. We are heartbroken with the results but will be back stronger.”
Duel #1 results
|1||9||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||60||Running|
|2||11||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||60||Running|
|3||7||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||60||Running|
|4||10||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||60||Running|
|5||3||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|6||12||43||Erik Jones||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|7||1||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|8||8||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|9||13||45||Kurt Busch||23XI Racing||Toyota||60||Running|
|10||4||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|11||5||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|12||2||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|13||14||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|14||18||77||Landon Cassill*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|15||16||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||60||Running|
|16||15||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||59||Running|
|17||6||16||Daniel Hemric*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||59||Running|
|18||19||50||Kaz Grala*||The Money Team Racing||Chevrolet||58||Running|
|19||21||55||J.J. Yeley*||MBM Motorsports||Ford||58||Running|
|20||20||78||B.J. McLeod||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||58||Running|
|21||17||62||Noah Gragson*||Beard Motorsports||Chevrolet||57||Running|
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Bold – Open car, made Daytona 500
Underscore – Open car, DNQ
Duel #2 results
|1||14||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||60||Running|
|2||11||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||60||Running|
|3||5||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||60||Running|
|4||9||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||60||Running|
|5||7||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||60||Running|
|6||3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||60||Running|
|7||8||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||60||Running|
|8||16||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||60||Running|
|9||6||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||59||Accident|
|10||13||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||59||Running|
|11||15||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||59||Running|
|12||12||42||Ty Dillon||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||59||Running|
|13||19||44||Greg Biffle*||NY Racing Team||Chevrolet||59||Running|
|14||1||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||59||Running|
|15||4||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||59||Running|
|16||17||51||Cody Ware||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||59||Running|
|17||20||15||David Ragan||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||58||Running|
|18||10||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||58||Running|
|19||2||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||58||Running|
|20||21||66||Timmy Hill*||MBM Motorsports||Ford||56||Running|
|21||18||27||Jacques Villeneuve||Team Hezeberg||Ford||34||Electrical|