Tampa Bay is Title Town these days and Aric Almirola is determined to keep that going, winning Duel 1
The Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 saw Aric Almirola throw down the gauntlet to the rest of the 39 cars that will make the field for the Daytona 500. That’s because on nine occasions, the winner of a Duel has gone on to win the Great American Race.
“Mike Bugarewicz and all these guys on this team built me an incredible Ford Mustang, so what a way to kickoff our 10th season together with Smithfield," Almirola said after getting out of his car.
Driving a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola led 52 of the 60 laps of Duel 1, and despite a mad scramble to the checkered flag, he held off Joey Logano and Christopher Bell at the wire. The Blue Oval brand has won at least one duel the last three years – Ryan Blaney (2018), Kevin Harvick (2019) and Joey Logano (2019-20).
More Daytona 500: Alex Bowman makes history in taking pole for Daytona 500
Pole sitter Alex Bowman had to pull off the track after the 30th lap of Duel 1 with what appeared to be an engine issue. That could be bad news or good, depending on what happens at the end of the night. If he is forced to replace the engine, he will have to go to the back of the field for the Daytona 500. If it can be repaired, he will remain on the pole. It is probably moot because Bowman returned to the track but was four laps down. He would go on to finish 20th in Duel 1.
The race wasn’t just about who could pull off the victory because where they finish determines what row they will start in the 500. That will be finalized after the second duel. The other part was cars without a charter who needed to race their way in.
For the last half of Duel 1, Ty Dillon was in a position to make it in. All he had to do was finish ahead of Ryan Preece, who himself made it on time in qualifying Wednesday. Austin Cindric was a lap down with five to go, and Dillon had a big edge over Preece.
“First of all, I get the bonehead of the race award, speeding in the last section of pit road when I nailed everything else the whole night that I didn’t know how to do, so my guys can all have a shot punching me wherever they want to, but I’m obviously really happy to get our Verizon 5G Ford Mustang into the big show," Cindric said.
Dillon lost his ride when Germain Racing folded, and he landed a Daytona 500 drive with Gaunt Brothers Racing. Maybe there was some karma in his attempt because Ty’s father, Mike, was his spotter. But on the final lap and cars spreading out toward the finish, Preece snuck ahead, eliminating Dillon.
Despite finishing a lap down in Duel 1, Cindrick makes the Daytona 500 because his qualifying time was better than Dillon’s.