Busch, Burton Duel Winners

Gatorade Duel

Kurt Busch won the first Gatorade Duel, and Jeff Burton won the second Gatorade Duel. (Photo: Getty Images)

Daytona 500 Starting Lineup

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton took the checkered flags in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch made it two for two this Speedweeks with a win in Thursday’s opening 150-mile race following up his Budweiser Shootout victory on Saturday night.

Michael McDowell blew an engine on the backstretch to bring out caution late in the race and forced a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch teamed up with Regan Smith as his drafting partner and was able to nose across the finish line first to pick up the win.

“Just an incredible Speedweeks,” Busch said. “[I] don’t want it to end. It’s amazing to be able to do this now … you’re learning every lap.”

Busch said he’s been on a constant learning quest since arriving at Daytona and has been improving every time he’s on the track.

“There are so many things I've learned each and every drafting session, whether it's the practice or the race Saturday night and today's race,” Busch said. “I'll get back with (crew chief Steve] Addington, my guys, they'll analyze what they saw as well, what other teams are doing, specific types of moves. You just try to bank as much information as you can in your mind to know what to do when.

“You're kind of flying by the seat of your pants because you haven't put those ideas into an actual experience just yet. Today went through quite a few more. But there's still more to learn. I hope Sunday can be our day.”

Smith, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top five.

Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman completed the first ten finishers.

Four drivers in the field worked their way into the Daytona 500 in the opening race including Bill Elliott, J.J. Yeley and Joe Nemechek.

“I’ve never seen this kind of racing in my life,” said Elliott, who piloted the James Finch Chevrolet into a starting spot for the 500. “It’s a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. I think it’s going to be a good race and an exciting race on Sunday.”

Yeley rode his 17th place finish to give the Whitney Motorsports team a berth in Sunday’s big race.

“I’ve never had to race my way into the race before,” said Yeley, who was a lap down at one point in the 62 lap race. “It’s nerve wracking to be sure but it’s a great feeling to bring this team into the 500.

The afternoon’s second race proved to be a thriller that had a storybook ending as well.

Burton edged Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer at the checkered flag to earn the victory with upstart Brian Keselowski racing his way into the Daytona 500.

“You obviously have to have a teammate or partner out there in this style of racing and Clint pushed perfectly,” said Burton. “It’s a new way to race here but I think we’re feeling more comfortable every time we’re out there.”

Waltrip came home third followed by Kyle Busch and Brian Keselowski.

Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.

The Keselowskis teamed up to freight train their way to the front of the field in a stirring run that ended up with the Brian pulling off the biggest upset of “Speedweeks” so far.

“It’s amazing that this team could pull this off today,” said Brian. “We just came down here hoping to have our dreams come true and so far it’s been just that. I can’t thank Brad enough for the opportunity and I tell you he’s the best pusher out there the way he helped.”

Among those drivers who failed to make the Daytona 500 were Casey Mears, Todd Bodine, Michael McDowell and Dave Blaney.

Sprint Cup Series teams will have two practice sessions on Friday.

Sunday’s Daytona 500 is slated for a 1 p.m. ET green flag.

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