Updated: 02/21/2014 1:32 PM KSTP.com
Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the second of two NASCAR Sprint Cup series qualifying auto races at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.
Photo: AP Photo/Terry Renna
Five things to know about what's going on at Daytona International Speedway in advance of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday:
DUEL WINNERS: Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin won the twin qualifying races for the Daytona 500 on Thursday night, the first under the lights at the famed track. Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, edged Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne in the first 150-mile feature. Hamlin took the checkered flag in a wilder second one. Hamlin's victory was overshadowed by a huge wreck that included Clint Bowyer's car getting airborne and doing a complete flip before landing on its tires. Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson triggered the melee when he ran out of gas a few hundred feet from the finish line. Jamie McMurray turned Johnson sideways, collecting several others. Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip and David Ragan also were involved. The cars of Johnson and Truex were on fire as they came to a stop just past the finish line. No one was injured. Many of the cars were destroyed, though, meaning it's likely all of those teams will be forced to switch to backup cars and start the 500 in the back of the pack.
HARVICK PENALIZED: Kevin Harvick finished second in the first qualifying race, but will start at the back of the field for the Daytona 500 after his No. 4 Chevrolet failed post-race inspection. NASCAR officials said Harvick's car exceeded the maximum allowed differential (3 inches) on the track bar. "For what little it was, it probably didn't amount to anything other than changing the handling characteristics of the car," said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick will join team co-owner Tony Stewart and teammate Danica Patrick at the back of the 43-car field. "It's a little setback," Zipadelli said. "We'll have a few of our cars back there. We'll team up and haul (butt) to the front."
ROAD RASH: Landon Cassill raced his way into the Daytona 500 just days after getting hit by a car while riding his bike. Cassill had road rash on his chin, arm and both legs, as well as a black eye and some bad bruising. He was hit Saturday - he said he was T-boned by a woman who ran a stop sign - and ended up in the hospital. His bike was destroyed. NASCAR medical cleared Cassill to drive in pole qualifying Sunday and he was back behind the wheel in the second qualifying race Thursday night. He finished ninth. "I was really lucky. My face really took most of the fall," he said, drawing some laughter. "It's really not funny. I could have got really hurt."
BLANEY'S BUST: Dave Blaney became the first driver officially out of the Daytona 500. Blaney withdrew from contention Thursday, one day after he totaled his only car in the first full practice for NASCAR's premier event. Blaney, who posted the slowest pole-qualifying speed Sunday, got caught up in a seven-car accident Wednesday and had no backup for his No. 77 Ford. Blaney had an outside shot at getting a car from fellow Ford teams Penske Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Front Row Motorsports, but those teams weren't able to help. Randy Humphrey Racing got a late start on 2014 preparations, so the team was unable to get a backup car ready. How significant a setback could it be for Blaney and the one-car team? Well, the last-place finisher received $264,354 in 2013 - a hefty paycheck that goes a long way in helping small-budget teams.
PACE CAR UPDATE: Chevrolet believes a pinched wire caused a trunk fire in the Chevrolet SS pace car during the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race Saturday night. The automaker unveiled three new pace cars to be used this weekend at Daytona: a Silverado 1500 for the Truck Series opener Friday, a Camaro SS for the Nationwide opener Saturday, and a Chevrolet SS for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. All three - fittingly painted fire-engine red - have LED lighting systems, which don't use the same wiring system that seemingly started the fire. The switch was made long before what happened in the Unlimited. Flames could be seen shooting from the rear of the car as it sat on the Daytona apron. A replacement pace car was brought out to finish the race. The burned car was shipped back to Detroit for analysis.
Related: Daytona 500 preview.
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