(MRN) Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin won Thursday’s qualifying races as the starting field was set for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Elliott started from the pole and finished at the front of the field in the first half of the Can-Am Duel at Daytona, leading the final twenty-four laps and beating runner-up Jamie McMurray to the checkered flag by fifteen one-hundredths of a second as Chevrolet swept the top two finishing positions. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth completed the top five. Hamlin gave Toyota its turn in Victory Lane by winning the nightcap, storming past race leader Dale Earnhardt Junior with an outside move on the next-to-last lap then driving off to secure the Number-4 starting spot in Sunday’s “Great American Race.” Hamlin beat Clint Bowyer to the finish by two-tenths of a second with Kurt Busch, A-J Allmendinger and Austin Dillon completing the top five. Earnhardt finished sixth.
With his second-place finish in Thursday’s first race, McMurray will line up on the inside of Row-2 alongside Hamlin for Sunday’s official season opener. Front-row qualifiers Elliott and Earnhardt were locked in after topping last weekend’s time trials and will lead the field to the green flag Sunday in the fifty-ninth running of the Daytona 500.
Thirty-six of the forty starting spots were guaranteed to teams who are part of NASCAR’s one-year-old “Charter” system, leaving just four transfer spots available for non-Charter drivers in Thursday’s doubleheader. Those went to Corey LaJoie, Brendan Gaughan, D-J Kennington and Elliott Sadler. With forty-two drivers entered this year, two failed to qualify: Timmy Hill and Reed Sorenson.
OTHER NOTABLE DRIVERS AND THEIR STARTING POSITIONS SUNDAY … 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick, fifth … Advance Auto Parts Clash winner Joey Logano, seventeenth …Danica Patrick, fourteenth … Ty Dillon will be the highest-qualified rookie, twentieth … and reigning seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson will roll off twenty-sixth … When the green flag flies, it’ll be Denny Hamlin bidding to become the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995 to win back-to-back Daytona 500s … And under the terms of NASCAR’s new race format, championship points were awarded to the top ten finishers in each of Thursday’s races, leaving Hamlin and Chase Elliott presently tied for the 2017 points lead with ten apiece.