By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Have the Can-Am Duels at Daytona outlived their usefulness? The evidence certainly seems to point that way.
Since the outset of the Daytona 500, qualifying for the biggest race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has been a mix of single car qualifying for the front row and qualifying races to set the remainder of the field. In seasons past, with more cars entered than the field allowed, the two qualifying races held the Thursday before the 500 have been full of drama as all attention turned to who would make it into the Great American Race and who would have to pack up and head home early.
This year, there was none of that, just a lot of torn-up race cars.
With just 40 cars entered for Sunday’s race, all of them would be guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500, turning Thursday’s qualifying races into a glorified practice session. Yes, there were points on the line, but do the handful of points available really outweigh the risk of tearing up your primary car and having to go to a backup car? I think not.
In the first of the two Duels alone, several drivers would be involved in crashes and relegated to their backup cars for the 500, which they would have to start at the back of the pack. Among those involved in crashes were Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Aric Almirola, and Brad Keselowski. All stout cars, but needlessly wrecked.
For Johnson, it was a second wrecked car after crashing out of last Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.
“I’m devastated for the work and effort that goes into these cars and more on the crew side,” said Johnson. “I know the next car is going to be fast. I know all three cars we have built are really good and strong. I just hate that we have been through three cars down here a lot of different Speedweeks. That part bothers me. But, I do feel very confident in the car we are going to roll out and what the team will be able to put under me.”
“It is disappointing,” Almirola said. “Not the way I wanted to start Speedweeks with our Smithfield Ford Fusion but we will get another car out and get ready for the rest of the weekend. The beauty of it is that it is just the 150’s and it wasn’t the Daytona 500.”
It was déjà vu in the second Duel race as the cars of Kyle Larson and Matt DiBenedetto wound up waded up before the night was over.
As in Johnson’s case, Thursday night’s crash marked a second Speedweeks crash for Larson as well.
“I just hate that we tore up another car and my guys are going to have to get another Credit One Bank Chevy prepared before tomorrow morning practice,” said Larson. “We just didn’t really want to crash today. That stinks.
“Part of superspeedway racing–that’s why we love it.”
While there was some entertaining racing in both races on Thursday night, with nothing more than a handful of points and bragging rights on the line, having a race just for the sake of tradition still doesn’t offset the numerous risks drivers and teams have to deal with in such an event.
Will we one day see the Daytona 500 field set by just single car qualifying? Maybe. But for the foreseeable future, Thursday’s Duels will continue to be the thorn in the side of a handful of drivers every year as they see their primary cars destroyed and will have to contest the biggest race of the season in a backup.