By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
Chase Elliott kicked off Speedweeks last Sunday by scoring his second consecutive Daytona 500 pole and the sophomore Hendrick Motorsports driver continued his hot streak on Thursday night by winning the first of the two Can-Am Duel races.
“We had such a fast NAPA Chevy tonight. I didn’t think anyone was going to help us there at the first part of the race and I had a couple of good pushes to get us out front. Eddie did a great job on top of the roof making sure that he was calling the lanes correctly and we were able to get back to the front. Big thanks to our partners: NAPA, Hooters, Kelley Blue Book, Mountain Dew, Sun Energy 1, Chevrolet, Vavoline, the Hendrick engine shop – they had some steam tonight and it was apparent,” said Elliott.
Elliott started on pole for the race, but quickly gave way to Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who were among the strongest cars throughout the race, as they would lead from lap two through lap 36 in the 60 lap event. Keselowski finished with 28 laps led, while Busch had seven laps led to his name.
On lap 37, Elliott was able to move his No. 24 Chevrolet back to the front and held onto the point for the final 24 laps in the race, holding off charges from Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick over the closing laps to score the win.
Following Elliott to the finish was McMurray, Harvick, Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Martin Truex, Jr., Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, and Cole Whitt to round out the top-10. All 10 drivers also score season points, with Elliott scoring 10 points down to Whitt with one point.
With the win, Elliott becomes the youngest winner of a Duel race, eclipsing Jeff Gordon for that record and also becoming one of three drivers to win a Duel race before winning their first full points race. He is also the first driver since Dale Earnhardt in 1996 to win the Daytona 500 pole and his qualifying race.
The race was not without incident as the two drivers battling for the lone race-in spot in the first Duel, Reed Sorenson and Corey Lajoie, got together on lap 49, sending Sorenson for a spin coming out of the tri-oval, which resulted in his car making hard contact into the inside SAFER barrier. Sorenson’s car was destroyed, but the Georgia native was able to get out under his own power and was released from the Infield Care Center a short time later.
As a result, Lajoie raced his way into the Great American Race, while Sorenson will have to play the waiting game to see if he will get his shot to race on Sunday. If Brendan Gaughan or Elliott Sadler race their way in during the second Duel, Sorenson will make the field for the Daytona 500.
“I was just welding seats in my dad’s shop and Ron Devine’s call came in. He was needing a driver, Matt went over to GoFas, and he had an open seat that I’d politicked very hard for. I picked it up and he said ‘this is the call you’ve been wanting to hear’ and I was like ‘man, thank you, thank you very much’. I’m excited to go and I can’t thank Dustless Blasting enough for putting me in that thing and have faith in me to do it because he could have chosen several other people. He chose me and we’re racing on Sunday,” said Lajoie when recounting how he landed his ride for the Daytona 500.