The Daytona 500 has an unusual system of determining its starting order. The first two spots in the field of 40 are determined by fastest laps on Sunday, the week before the race. The remainder of the field is determined by their finish in two 150-mile races on Thursday night.
It’s as much about allowing the drivers to learn more about their car before the first race of the year and in some cases a new pit crew. It’s also about the manufacturers teaming up to practice, helping each other out. And sometimes, all those angles play out at one time.
Joey Logano won the first duel in a dominating show by Ford, taking the first four positions with four different teams. Aric Almirola was second, followed by Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski. Racing was delayed more than an hour when a light rain fell at Daytona International Speedway.
William Byron won the second duel, which was a testament to Chevrolet, which took the top three spots. Jimmie Johnson, running in his final season, was second and Kyle Larson was third. Byron and Johnson are teammates with Hendrick Motorsports.
Logano will be running in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with Paul Wolfe as his new crew chief. Wolfe had been with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. Team Penske switched up all their pairings in the offseason.
“You know, each of the drivers have different strengths and weaknesses just like we all do as crew chiefs,” Wolfe said. “The last month has just been trying to spend a lot of time and understand kind of his approach to racing and the things he’s used to, what he likes, what he doesn’t like, and then really just kind of blending everything together. You take the strengths of each of us and hopefully put together a stronger package than we’ve had in the past.”
It was the second straight year that Logano was victorious in one of the duels. The key was in the final laps when he was getting a push, reducing the drag on both cars, from Almirola. At the time, Logano was running side by side with pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in a Chevrolet. But Stenhouse had no one to help him.
“One Chevy can’t beat six Fords,” Logano said. “It’s not going to happen. And that’s what we saw here [Thursday]. We just saw a lot of good teamwork with Aric and also the other Fords behind all of us.”
In the second race, there weren’t enough Fords up front to beat the Chevys.
Byron is in his second year with crew chief Chad Knaus, so there was some familiarity. Knaus was previously in the pits for Johnson.
“It’s all about working with Chad and that I can go to him with any question I have, and I have any answers for him,” Byron said. “It’s all about the relationship here.”
Byron said the Chevys working together was natural.
“What you saw [Thursday] happened to be working with friends and drivers from the same manufacturer,” Byron said. “It’s not forced, it’s because they are your teammates.”
Come Sunday the cooperation may be slightly less as the stakes grow exponentially.