When Michael McDowell’s engine overheated with five laps to go, it set the stage for an exciting finish to race one of the Duel Gatorade 125’s taking place on thursday at Daytona International Raceway. In essence, it setup a green, white, checker finish and that made a winner of Kurt Busch, who with an assist of Regan Smith took the checkered flag in race 1. It also ensured that J.J, Yeley, Bill Elliot, and Michael Waltrip secured spots in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
The first Gatorade duel took off at around 2:15 and included Jimmy Johnson, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr from the back among others. It did not take long for the action to kick off though as drivers paired up and started the early drafting. On lap 2, Ryan Newman spun out his car with a little help from his teammate Tony Stewart, but no damage occured on either as Newman avoided the wall.
At lap 6, the drivers were already going three wide back in the main pack. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart pulled away from the pack as the new two car drafting that is becoming prevalent on the new track surface shot them far out in front of the main pack. At the ten lap mark, Tony Stewart had the lead, but each time a pair of cars had to swap positions, the lead quickly evaporated.
Drivers that are doing the two car drafting, which is just about everybody, are having to switch to keep one another from overheating. By lap 15, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth had move to the front, with Stewart back to the 7th spot. Through 20 laps, there had already been seven different leaders as two car pairs would push each other to the front, only to be caught a few laps later.
The heating up from these two car tangos could definitely play a roll on Sunday as many cars seem to be having problems with needing to get good air, causing pairs to have to switch positions and they subsequently lose speed on the track.
At the halfway point, Kurt Busch and Regan Smith were leading the race, but the impression that you get is that the winner is not going to be someone that leads for the next 30 laps. The winner of this duel will probably come on the last lap on the last turn. 35 laps in, there had been 15 lead changes already, close to breaking the record for a Gatorade duel. The new track surface is having a big effect.
At the 40 lap mark, Kevin Harvick was back in the lead, having held that spot for the most laps at that point. Pit stops started at lap 39 and numerous teams just took gas and bypassed getting fresh tires. Tony Stewart was among the only ones to take tires. At 10 laps to go, there had been 18 lead changes, setting a new race record for lead changes.