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Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon claimed victories in the two 150-mile Duel races that set the grid for Sunday’s Daytona 500, which formally begins the NASCAR Cup season.

Stewart-Haas Ford driver Almirola held off a fast-approaching Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) to secure third on the grid in the first race, while 2018 Daytona 500 winner Dillon (Richard Childress Chevrolet) passed Bubba Wallace’s 23XI Toyota on the final lap of the second race to secure fourth on the grid.

Exiting Turn 4 on the final lap of overtime, Dillon got a big push from Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas) and cut to the inside of Wallace, nudged him briefly and cleared him in time to take the checkered flag.

“I knew Bubba was going to try to block it, but I just whipped the wheel and it worked out well,” said Dillon.

Harvick finished third, ahead of Clash winner Kyle Busch (JGR Toyota) and reigning champion Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet).

With David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports Ford) the top finishing non-charter team in the race, the final spot for open teams in the Daytona 500 starting lineup went to Kaz Grala (Kaulig Racing Chevrolet) based on his qualifying speed from Wednesday night.

Hendrick drivers Alex Bowman and William Byron had already secured their place on the front row of the grid from qualifying, but Bowman dropped out of the running in the first race with suspected engine issues.

Byron ran well in the second race, but was eliminated with significant rear damage in a multi-car accident resulting from contact between Garrett Smithley and Brad Keselowski, which also collected Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson.

Almirola led 52 of the caution-free 60-lap opening race and was a comfortable winner.

“All these guys on the team built me an incredible Ford Mustang,” Almirola said.

“It’s a great way to starts Speedweeks. This thing is really fast. I can’t wait until Sunday. Proud of everybody back at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve got to do an interview at the start/finish line. Things are going great for Tampa Bay!”

Behind Bell, Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Ford) finished third ahead of Joey Logano (Team Penske Ford) and top-finishing non-charter driver Ryan Preece (JTG Daughtery Chevrolet).

Reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric claimed the second 500 starting position among open teams based on his qualifying speed, after a pit speeding penalty dropped him from contention.

Daytona 500 grid

Pos Driver Team Car
1 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
3 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
4 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
5 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
6 Darrell Wallace Jr. 23XI Racing Toyota
7 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Chevrolet
8 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
9 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford
10 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
11 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
12 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
13 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
14 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford
15 Daniel Suarez TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet
16 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
17 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford
18 David Ragan Front Row Motorsports Ford
19 Jamie McMurray Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
20 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
21 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
22 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford
23 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford
24 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford
25 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
26 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
27 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
28 Joey Gase Rick Ware Racing Ford
29 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
30 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
31 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
32 Derrike Cope Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
33 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet
34 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
35 Cody Ware Petty Ware Racing Chevrolet
36 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford
37 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford
38 B.J. McLeod Live Fast Motorsports Ford
39 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford
40 Kaz Grala Kaulig Racing Chevrolet



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