Kenseth, Stewart win Daytona 500 qualifiers

6:01 PM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart won Thursday's first Gatorade Duel qualifying race, while Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag for the second qualifier to put both drivers on the second starting row for Sunday's 54th running of the Daytona 500.

Kenseth's Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, had already secured the front row for NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season, with Edwards winning the pole and Biffle taking the outside pole in last Sunday's time trials at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose before the first 150- mile qualifier ended under caution when Danica Patrick, who is making her Sprint Cup debut this week, crashed on the final lap. Patrick made contact with Aric Almirola and then spun along the backstretch before she slammed hard into the inside retaining wall. She ended up finishing 16th in what was her first Sprint Cup race event.

Stewart will start third in the Daytona 500.

Patrick will have to switch to a back up car and therefore start from the rear of the field in her first Sprint Cup points race.

Michael McDowell's sixth-place finish and Robby Gordon's ninth-place run were good enough for them to race their way into the Daytona 500. Gordon started the opening Duel with a tire rub, as he fell back in the field with smoke pluming from the side of his car during the opening lap. He took advantage of an early-race caution by coming onto pit road for repairs.

Michael Waltrip's streak of Daytona 500 appearances came to an end with an 18th-place finish in the first Duel. Waltrip, who had competed in the last 25 Daytona 500s (1987-2011), wrecked with eight laps to go. Just after pitting for fuel, he lost control and made contact with the outside wall while coming out of turn two.

Waltrip, winner of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and '03, was driving the No.40 Toyota for Hillman Racing. He will share driving duties with Mark Martin in the No.55 car during the remainder of the season. Martin is behind the wheel of the No.55 at Daytona.

In the second qualifier, Kenseth passed Biffle for the lead one lap away from the finish. Biffle had led a total of 40 laps before Kenseth got around him as they crossed the start/finish line to complete the second-to-last lap.

Kenseth then beat Regan Smith to the finish line by 0.2 seconds for his and Roush Fenway's first ever win in a Daytona 500 qualifier. Kenseth will start fourth in the 500.

Jimmie Johnson, who dealt with overheating issues throughout the 60-lap race, finished third, and Elliott Sadler placed fourth. Biffle crossed the line in fifth.

Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek were the last two drivers to race their way into the Daytona 500. Blaney finished 12th and Nemechek 17th in the second qualifier.

Joining Waltrip in failing to qualify for this year's Daytona 500 were: Bill Elliott, Robert Richardson Jr., Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace and J.J. Yeley.

Elliott won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and '87, as well as the series championship in '88.

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