Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr wins opening Duel qualifying race

Dale Earnhardt Jr triumphed in the first Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Thursday night

Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr wins opening Duel qualifying race

The 2004 and '14 500 winner led 43 of the Duel's 60 laps, battling back past Denny Hamlin in the closing stages after the Joe Gibbs Toyota jumped to the front during the race's sole pitstop sequence.

Earnhardt's Hendrick Chevrolet looked unstoppable once back out front, while Hamlin was shuffled down to fifth place by the flag.

Joey Logano clawed his way through to second after losing ground due to taking fresh tyres in the pitstops while most frontrunners settled for just a fuel top-up.

As well as settling the starting grid for Sunday's main event from row two backwards, the Duels also decide which of the non-charter entrants fail to qualify for the 500.

Ryan Blaney made the cut in heroic style. Having dropped a lap down due to a loose wheel on his Wood Brothers Ford, Blaney got back on the lead lap during the race's only yellow and then surged from the back to third place.

Michael McDowell also made it through for the Circle Sport Leavine Family team by virtue of his pace in qualifying last Sunday. He came home 14th.

That meant Motorsports Group driver Josh Wise and Premium Motorsports' Cole Whitt failed to qualify.

Wise could only finish 17th, while Whitt triggered the yellow with a spin as he battled with Brian Scott and then slowed with a mechanical problem.

With pole for the 500 already secured, Chase Elliott kept his nose clean to finish sixth behind Kevin Harvick and Hamlin.

The second Duel takes place later on Thursday night.

RESULTS - 60 LAPS:

Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 52m03.000s 2. Joey Logano Penske Ford +0.184s 3. Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Ford +0.333s 4. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +0.495s 5. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +0.508s 6. Chase Elliott Hendrick Chevrolet +0.593s 7. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +0.618s 8. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +0.709s 9. Chris Buescher Front Row Ford +0.733s 10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +0.780s 11. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet +0.858s 12. Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Ford +0.881s 13. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +0.986s 14. Michael McDowell Circle/Leavine Chevrolet +1.163s 15. Regan Smith Baldwin Chevrolet +1.280s 16. David Ragan BK Toyota +1.419s 17. Josh Wise Motorsports Group Chevrolet +2.187s 18. Clint Bowyer HScott Chevrolet +12.543s 19. Bobby Labonte Go FAS Ford +14.291s Retirements: Brian Scott Petty Ford -1 lap Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet -2 laps Cole Whitt Premium Toyota -13 laps 
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