In what could be a preview of Sunday’s main event, Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott won the first of Thursday night’s two Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway.
Elliott took the lead on Lap 37 of the 60-lap race and held off challenges from several drivers including runner-up Jamie McMurray, third-place finisher Kevin Harvick and fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski.
It was Elliott’s first win in his NASCAR Cup career.
“We had some steam tonight, and it was apparent,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “I’m excited about how this thing ran tonight, keeping it in one piece. I know this is only a Duel win and doesn’t count towards a win in the playoffs, but it still means a lot to me and the team. It’s a great way to start the season.”
For the first time in the modern NASCAR era, the top-10 finishing drivers earned points for their finish in both duel races. Also earning points in the first Duel were Matt Kenseth (finished fifth), Trevor Bayne (sixth), Martin Truex Jr. (seventh), Aric Almirola (eighth), Joey Logano (ninth) and Cole Whitt (10th).
There were six lead changes among three different drivers: Elliott, Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
There were two cautions (including a scheduled competition caution on Lap 26) and just one significant wreck in the event.
On Lap 50, Reed Sorenson’s hopes of racing his way into Sunday’s Daytona 500 ended after he was tapped from behind by Corey LaJoie, spun and slammed head-on into a SAFER barrier. Also collected in the wreck was Paul Menard.
LaJoie, who finished 18th, will race in Sunday’s event, while Sorenson and Timmy Hill failed to make the 40-car field.
“Guess he felt like he did what he needed to do. Hope he’s proud of it,” Sorenson said of LaJoie to Fox Sports 1.
Who else had a good race: Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski finished second through fourth and all had strong performances, but couldn’t catch Elliott in the closing laps. … Aric Almirola, the only car running in the Cup series for Richard Petty Motorsports this season, looked strong and finished eighth.
Who had a bad race: Brendan Gaughan could never get going and finished 19th in the 21-driver field.
Notable: 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a vibration on Lap 13. He fell one lap back as a result and finished ninth. … Daniel Suarez, who will be competing in his first NASCAR Cup regular season event Sunday, finished 12th … Chase Elliott is the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win a Daytona 500 qualifying race. Previous mark was held by Jeff Gordon when he won this event in 1993
Quote of the day: “Man, when I’m trying to get into the Daytona 500, if my mom was in that spot I’d probably wreck her too. I’m racing on Sunday.” — Corey LaJoie on qualifying to race in Sunday’s race.
What’s next: Sunday’s 59th Daytona 500, with a 2 p.m. ET green flag.