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Friday, February 19, 2016

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins Daytona qualifying race

From The Marbles

     DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it to victory lane 15 years to the day after his father's death.
Junior won the first Daytona 500 qualifying race on Thursday night, his second-straight qualifying race win. His father died Feb. 18, 2001, in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
"I'm guilty of daydreaming a little bit about winning this race tonight because of the day," Junior admitted. "That was special to me. Glad nothing bad happened, that we didn't tear our car up, because that would have been embarrassing on a day like this."
Joey Logano finished second Thursday night, while Ryan Blaney, who had already qualified for Sunday's Daytona 500, finished third. Blaney's third-place finish meant Michael McDowell qualified for the 500 based off his qualifying speed.

Dale Earnhardt Jr celebrates his fifth career Duel victory.  (AP)

       Dale Earnhardt Jr celebrates his fifth career Duel victory. (AP)

Earnhardt Jr. had the evening's strongest car. He led 43 of 60 laps, but got shuffled back on the race's only restart because he spun the tires. It didn't matter as he quickly worked his way back to the front of the field and made his move off Turn 4 as the field approached five laps to go. When Denny Hamlin, then the race's leader, drifted off the yellow line, Junior kept his car glued to the bottom and drove on past.

Asked if he showed his hand for Sunday's race, Junior responded, "Nah. You've got to go win. You can't hold your cards when there's a trophy out there."

At Daytona, the draft is critical. Drivers need to get aerodynamic runs to make passes. Junior's car was so good that virtually no one could make an attempt at passing him. When his car was out front it was ahead of the pack by a car length. No one could get to his bumper and Junior was able to simply play defense, going wherever he wanted to on the track.

It's his fifth Can-Am Duel win, the most of any active driver.
Here's how the first Duel finished. These drivers will have the odd-numbered starting spots for the 500.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (starts 3rd)
2. Joey Logano (5th)
3. Ryan Blaney (7th)
4. Kevin Harvick (9th)
5. Denny Hamlin (11th)
6. Chase Elliott (1st by virtue of front row qualifying)
7. Kasey Kahne (13th)
8. Greg Biffle (15th)
9. Chris Buescher (17th)
10. Ricky Stenhouse (19th)
11. Austin Dillon (21st)
12. Trevor Bayne (23rd)
13. Brad Keselowski (25th)
14. Michael McDowell (39th based on speed)
15. Regan Smith (27th)
16. David Ragan (29th)
17. Josh Wise (DNQ)
18. Clint Bowyer (31st)
19. Bobby Labonte (33rd)
20. Brian Scott (35th)
21. Paul Menard (37th)
22. Cole Whitt (DNQ)

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!