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NASCAR Cup: Aric Almirola scores Daytona Duel win

By AMANDA VINCENT

The Tampa, Fla., area has had a lot to celebrate, sports-wise, over the last year. The Tampa Bay Rays advanced to be the American League representative in the 2020 World Series last fall. On Feb. 7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa. Aric Almirola, a NASCAR Cup Series driver who claims Tampa as his hometown, continued the Tampa-area excellence Thursday night by winning the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona races to claim to start Sunday’s Daytona 500 in the third position.

“This thing was a hot rod,” Almirola said. “I’m so proud of these guys on this race team.  Our race car is so fast. I’m proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. We’ve got an incredible race car, and I can’t wait for the Daytona 500. Thanks to Smithfield and everybody that supports this program. Our Ford Mustang is fast and it’s a great way to kickoff the season.”

Rain came soon after the competition of the first race to delay the start of the second 150-mile/60-lap race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

The first Duel race determined the inside line of the Daytona 500 starting grid beyond the front row. The front-row starters — pole sitter Alex Bowman and Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron — claimed their Daytona 500 starting positions in front-row qualifying Wednesday night.

Bowman finish 20th, four laps down, Thursday night after his team was unable to diagnose a possible engine issue.

The first 22-car Duel included four drivers with teams that don’t have coveted charters that guarantee race starting positions — Ryan Preece, Austin Cindric, Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill. Preece guaranteed himself a starting position in the Daytona 500 by being the fastest among eight open drivers, overall, in Wednesday’s front-row qualifying session. He didn’t need that guarantee, though, as he got into the Daytona 500 by beating Dillon to the checkered flag by 0.04 seconds to finish fifth.

With Preece claiming a Daytona 500 starting position with his Duel race finish, Cindric became the driver from the first Duel to fall back on his Wednesday speed to get into the Daytona 500. He was 19th in Wednesday’s single-lap, single car qualifying session. Cindric wound up a lap down in the first Duel on Thursday after a pit-road speeding penalty during a mid-race cycle of green-flag pit stops.

“First of all, I get the bonehead of the race award, speeding in the last section of pit road when I nailed everything else the whole night that I didn’t know how to do, so my guys can all have a shot punching me wherever they want to, but I’m obviously really happy to get our Verzon 5G Ford Mustang into the big show,” Cindric said. “There’s a lot left for me to learn, but racing on the biggest stage against the best drivers is an amazing opportunity.”

Cars spun as Almirola took the checkered flag, but the opening Duel ran caution free. Almirola dominated the race, leading 52 laps after starting on the front row and taking the lead from Bowman on the first lap. The only other laps leaders were Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin. Almirola was the only driver to lead more than three laps.

Bell finished second in the opening Duel, Ryan Newman was third, and Joey Logano finished fourth after challenging Almirola late in the race.

The top-10 finishers of each Duel receive points. Other top-10 finishers in the first Duel included Dillon in sixth, Kyle Larson in seventh, Suarez eighth, Michael McDowell ninth and Jamie McMurray in 10th.

Two-time defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin contested the first Duel. After hanging out in the back for much of the race, he made a charge in the late laps before finishing 13th.

Below, is the finishing order of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona:

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Posted by on February 12, 2021. Filed under Breaking News,Cup Series,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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