NASCAR Cup Series

Fords sweep Daytona Duels, Zane Smith and Daly qualify

3 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Last Friday, Conor Daly told The Checkered Flag that his “perfect scenario” would be to race alongside friends Jimmie Johnson and Travis Pastrana in the Daytona 500. Despite a disastrous qualifying session in which he never turned a lap and being plagued by mechanical trouble in his Duel on Thursday, he capitalised on a late wreck that took out fellow non-chartered driver Austin Hill to clinch his spot in the Great American Race.

Daly and Hill simply needed to finish ahead of the other in Duel #2 to make the Daytona 500, a task that seemed to grow taller for the former when his car started to vibrate. Despite being off the pace and ultimately finishing a lap down, Hill was collected in a lap 40 crash that began when Daniel Suárez pushed leader Kyle Busch too hard and shot him into the backstretch wall, and Hill was spun upon contact with Riley Herbst. Pastrana, who qualified for the 500 on Wednesday alongside Johnson, was also involved.

While it may be a stroke of luck, Daly was more than happy to take it after a difficult week. He will be the sixty-second different driver to have competed in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, a stat that also includes Johnson.

“We were inherently unlucky for the last thirty-six hours, but we got lucky,” said Daly. “I wish I could have said that I drove it in on pure pace, but it was just crazy.

“When we went out there, the car was bouncing around. I had no idea what was going on. I thought the drivetrain was broken, and Tony (Eury Jr., crew chief) just made it better every time. We got lucky with the yellows to try to get some experience, but it is pretty crazy.

“This race, I’ve watched it for so many years and so much crazy stuff can happen, and thankfully we were on the right side of the craziness. It’s pretty amazing.”

Daly is not the only Open driver celebrating a Daytona 500 grid spot. In the first Duel, former Craftsman Truck Series rivals Zane Smith and Chandler Smith jockeyed for the other available grid position, but the latter’s hopes dried up after receiving a speeding penalty.

“Before, I said I’m fine if I don’t make it but it would be awesome if I make it,” said Chandler Smith, who will now focus on the Xfinity Series. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m a believer.

“I’m fine with this. I had a lot of fun right there. I learned a lot, now I get what these guys talk about when you run on a Sunday you gain a lot of experience. That translates into Saturdays and Sundays.”

With Zane Smith qualifying, the 2023 Daytona 500 will feature all three defending national series champions. Joey Logano (Cup) won Duel #1 and will start third, while Ty Gibbs (Xfinity) finished nineteenth in said race. It is the first Cup race with such a quirk since the 2011 Pure Michigan 400 with Johnson (Cup), Brad Keselowski (Xfinity), and Todd Bodine (Truck), though that was when Cup regulars like Keselowski were allowed to race for lower series championships.

The Duel #1 win is Logano’s third after 2019 and 2020, while fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola won Duel #2 for the second time after 2021. Keselowski and RFK Racing team-mate Chris Buescher, who swept the 2022 Duels, interestingly finished fourth in their respective races.

“There was so much anxiety about wrecking a race car because we were in such a bad position supply chain-wise and not having all the parts and pieces we needed,” said Almirola. “When my car drove as bad as it drove last year in the Duels, I bailed and just rode around and didn’t want to take any chances.

“This year, having more confidence, more understanding of these race cars, a year under our belt, even though the car didn’t drive great, I was able to be a lot more aggressive with a relatively good feeling about what we had in our race car and what we have for spare parts if we needed to work on it.”

Duel #1 results

FinishStartNumberDriverTeamManufacturerLapsStatus
1322Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord60Running
21120Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota60Running
3412Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord60Running
4717Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord60Running
51334Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord60Running
694Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord60Running
7623Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota60Running
81536Zane Smith*Front Row MotorsportsFord60Running
9521Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord60Running
10224William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet60Running
1181Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet60Running
121443Erik JonesLegacy Motor ClubChevrolet60Running
13173Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet60Running
141284Jimmie JohnsonLegacy Motor ClubChevrolet60Running
151616A.J. AllmendingerKaulig RacingChevrolet60Running
161847Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet59Running
17148Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet59Running
182113Chandler Smith*Kaulig RacingChevrolet59Running
191054Ty GibbsJoe Gibbs RacingToyota59Running
201951Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord59Running
212077Ty DillonSpire MotorsportsChevrolet59Running
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
Bold – Open car, made Daytona 500
Underscore – Open car, DNQ

Duel #2 results

FinishStartNumberDriverTeamManufacturerLapsStatus
1210Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord60Running
242Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord60Running
379Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet60Running
496Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord60Running
5207Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet60Running
615Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet60Running
71738Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord60Running
81119Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota60Running
91311Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota60Running
10841Ryan PreeceStewart-Haas RacingFord60Running
111442Noah GragsonLegacy Motor ClubChevrolet60Running
12699Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet60Running
131045Tyler Reddick23XI RacingToyota60Running
141531Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet60Running
15314Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord60Running
161878B.J. McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsChevrolet60Running
172150Conor Daly*The Money Team RacingChevrolet59Running
181662Austin Hill*Beard MotorsportsChevrolet41Accident
1958Kyle BuschRichard Childress RacingChevrolet40Accident
201915Riley Herbst*Rick Ware RacingFord40Accident
211267Travis Pastrana23XI RacingToyota40Accident
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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