DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – For the last four years now, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Can Am Duel at the Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks. They swept the twin 60 lap races in 2015, then saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the first duel in 2016. Last year, Chase Elliott won the first duel himself. This year, it was Elliott again, this time winning the second duel.
That’s basically a three race win streak though in the opening duel in the last three years right? For the 2018 edition, they started 1-2-3 in the first duel tonight. With what seemed to be single file racing for these races, it would seem like an easy win.
Instead, the best finisher among the three drivers in the race was 14th by pole sitter Alex Bowman.
Bowman, earned the top starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). But, in order to win the pole, he had to give up some handling to do so. It was no secret that Bowman was going for the fame by being the Daytona 500 pole sitter, but also giving away any shot of winning his Can Am Duel as a result. They went for single lap speed rather than handling. They knew they’d be junk and with this being an impound race, they couldn’t touch their car after the pole celebration. With a very loose race car, they immediately dropped to the back of the field once he took the green flag in Duel No. 1. He’d ride around, knowing they could dial their car in later for the ‘500 and finish 14th. In order to start first on Sunday, they first had to finish their duel in one piece.
Unfortunately, his teammates weren’t so fortunate.
Jimmie Johnson cut a tire and crashed on Lap 8. It was his second Speedweeks crash already, as he wrecked on the last lap of the Clash last Sunday. He would have to go to a backup car and will start in the rear this weekend as well as next in Atlanta.
It’s certainly a rough start to the 2018 season already for Johnson.
It’s also rough for rookie William Byron too. He had the air taken away from him by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 38 and crashed as well. He’d finish 18th.
After high hopes for a Daytona 500 win, they now will have some ground to make up.