DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth claimed their positions on the second row for Sunday’s 54th annual Daytona 500 with wins in their respective Gatorade Duel at Daytona qualifying races at historic Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart’s win in the first Gatorade Duel was his third in the Daytona 500 qualifying races and 17th overall on the 2.5-mile tri-oval moving him ahead of racing legend Bobby Allison to take sole possession of second place on DIS’s all-time victory list. The late Dale Earnhardt Sr. holds the top spot with 34 wins.
“We have a great race car,” said Stewart, who is still seeking his first Daytona 500 win. “We’ve had a great race car since we got here. (This win is) good momentum, but it’s no guarantee. It’s nice to come here and have two really good, strong and solid races back to back; it’s an awesome start for us.
“There’s just something magical about Daytona. When it’s the most important race of your season, all the drivers and all the teams and all the crews put more pressure on themselves for that one race than they do anywhere else the rest of the year.”
Kenseth’s victory added to an already prosperous Speedweeks 2012 for Roush Fenway Racing. It marked the first-ever Duel victory for the organization and only the third for Ford since the race went to the current 150-lap format. With Kenseth rolling off fourth on Sunday, and Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle securing the front row during Daytona 500 Qualifying, RFR will have three of the top-four cars leading the pack to kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
“It’s a big win for us,” remarked Kenseth. “We’ve never been able to win one of these races – Shootouts or 150s. We’ve been trying for a long time, so it feels good to have everything go right, have everything line up and be able to win that race. You feel a lot more confident.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top three of the first Gatorade Duel and Regan Smith and Jimmie Johnson followed behind Kenseth in the second Gatorade Duel.
Of the 49 cars battling in today’s Duels, 14 were not guaranteed a spot in NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race. Robby Gordon and Michael McDowell acquired the two transfer positions available in the first Gatorade Duel and Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek earned the two transfer spots in the second Gatorade Duel.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines and David Stremme made the race based on their qualifying speed and Terry Labonte will qualify with a past champion’s provisional.
The drivers that did not qualify for Sunday’s race are two-time Daytona 500 champions Michael Waltrip and Bill Elliott, Kenny and Mike Wallace, Robert Richardson Jr. and J.J. Yeley.
Tickets for the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 as well as other Speedweeks 2012 events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
If you are unable to attend in person, the Daytona 500 will air on FOX on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. ET.