Kurt Busch claimed his second victory in a week at Daytona by winning the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race for Sunday's Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener.
The Penske driver worked in tandem with Furniture Row's Regan Smith and managed to remain ahead of him coming out of the final corner of the 60-lap event, as Busch swept both races he has entered at Daytona this last week after winning Saturday's non-points Budweiser Shootout.
The Duel was decided in a green-white-checkered finish after the engine on Michael McDowell's car blew up a handful of laps from the checkered flag. Before that, the race unfolded mainly under green-flag conditions, the only incident taking place on lap two when Tony Stewart turned around his Stewart-Haas teammate Ryan Newman while working in tandem out of Turn 2.
The long green-flag stretch made pit stops key, as drivers working in tandems had to agree on driving onto pit road simultaneously in order to prevent being left out without a drafting partner when rejoining. This led to a group of eight cars split in four pairings opening more than a 15-second gap to those who either struggled to find the right drafting partner or failed to time their pit stops in the right way.
The final caution brought many back in contention, but still those who had previously been fighting it out at the front were the main contenders for victory. Once the green flag waved for the final time, the original pairings rejoined after momentarily breaking up as most drivers restarted beside their drafting partner. Smith pushed Busch's Dodge all the way and into the lead, breaking away from their pursuers ahead of the final lap.
Out of the final corner, Smith's car was already overheating and as he tried to break out of line to take the lead, Busch made the right moves which prevented the 2008 Rookie of the Year from getting beside him.
"I've just been in the right place at the right time," said Busch. "To be in those positions you've got to have the right drafting partner and I had that today with Regan Smith, had it with [Jamie] McMurray on Saturday night.
"But you can't be in those positions if you're not in a great racecar... The engine department knows that they're going to still bring us even more for Sunday's race.
"So I'm really excited but I can't get ahead of myself. This is Daytona and this place can jump back and bite you pretty quick. We're going to ride this wave, we've made the right decisions so far adapting to the rule changes, but right now I just feel like I know nothing about the new draft.
"We had 24 cars here racing on Saturday, we had 24 again today but we're going to have 43 cars on Sunday and it's going to be a different game."
The highest ambient temperatures of the week, rising above 20 degrees Celsius, meant that added with the new cooling restrictions implemented by NASCAR ahead of the race, drivers had to keep a close eye on temperature gauges, most of them pushing for a maximum of four laps in the initial portion of the race.
However, in the final laps many spent longer stretches pushing their drafting partners – Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth eventually figuring out how to do so for longer than any other tandem while working together to finish third and fourth.
JJ Yeley finished best of those who were not qualified for the race already, thus locking up his way into Sunday's event. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip also secured a place on the grid for the race that will mark the 10th anniversary of his first Sprint Cup win.
Pos Driver Team/Car Laps
1. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 62
2. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 62
3. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 62
4. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 62
5. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 62
6. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 62
7. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 62
8. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 62
9. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 62
10. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 62
11. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 62
12. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 62
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Chevrolet 62
14. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 62
15. Bill Elliott Phoenix Chevrolet 62
16. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 62
17. JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 62
18. Kevin Conway NEMCO Toyota 62
19. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 62
20. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 62
21. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 62
22. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet 60
23. Michael McDowell HP Toyota 53
David Gilliland Front Row Ford 40