Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned the third starting position for the Daytona 500 after winning the first of two races in the Budweiser Duel on Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt, who is the defending winner of the Daytona 500, had to start the first twin-qualifying race from the rear of the 25-car field since his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed last Sunday's post-qualifying inspection (left front of his car too low) and therefore had his time disallowed. He took the lead for the second and final time with 18 laps to go and then beat Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick, at the finish by 0.165 seconds.
"We've had a great car all week," Earnhardt said. "I'm so glad to be able to get through the Duel in one piece, because I know how good this race car is. We've got a couple of more practices to go through, and we'll try to stay out of trouble in those (practices) to put this car on the grid. We're going to have a fun day on Sunday."
Gordon had already secured the pole position for Sunday's Daytona 500 after winning qualifying.
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. Logano secured the fifth starting spot for the Daytona 500, while Stewart captured the seventh position and Bowyer ninth. Bowyer was in danger of not making the starting field for the Daytona 500 after he was involved in a multi-car wreck in qualifying and had to use a backup car for the Duel.
Other drivers who locked into the Daytona 500 and their finishing positions in the first Duel include: Kevin Harvick (6th), Kasey Kahne (7th), Jamie McMurray (8th), Landon Cassill (9th), Cole Whitt (10th), Paul Menard (11th), Michael McDowell (12th), J.J. Yeley (13th), Michael Annett (14th), Kyle Larson (15th) and Ty Dillon (16th).
Annett was one of six drivers who needed to race his way in during the Duel (finishing among the top-15 in his respective race) in order to make the Daytona 500.
Justin Marks, finishing 18th in the first Duel, and Ron Hornaday Jr., placing 21st, failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. Both drivers had to race their way in but came up short.