Thursday night’s Duels at Daytona set the starting lineup for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 and gave the Richard Childress Racing drivers their first shot at putting their Chevrolets to the test in racing conditions.
Austin Dillon was the highest finisher of the RCR drivers, finishing fourth in the second Duel and earning seven bonus points. Working through the draft during the 60-lap event, Dillon sliced his way through the field in the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet and was second with one lap to go. As the field jockeyed down the backstretch, Dillon slipped to fourth, but learned valuable lessons for Sunday’s 500-mile event. With the fourth-place finish, the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet will start eighth in the Daytona 500.
“I felt like I put myself in a good position to win,” said Dillon. “We were running second with one lap to go, but down the backstretch I didn’t move quick enough and it put us to fourth. It was a good race anyways. I just feel like I needed to move faster to the right. I know the momentum is in the top lane and I didn’t get there. It was a tough call to stay where I was on track. Overall, the Dow Chevrolet was really good and I feel like we have something we can work with for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.”
“Overall, the Dow Chevrolet was really good and I feel like we have something we can work with for the Daytona 500 on Sunday,” he said.
Ryan Newman was also in the second Duel and showed strength in the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet. Working the bottom lane throughout much of the race, Newman drove from the back to the front multiple times.
Running inside the top five late in the race, the No. 31 Chevrolet was shuffled out in the closing laps and crossed the line eighth. Taking the safe approach, Newman kept the car intact and will roll off 16th in Sunday’s race.
“We kept the Caterpillar Chevrolet in one piece which was a challenge a couple of times,” said Newman. “I think we realized tonight what we still need to work on without having competed in the Clash or had any practice. I’m pleased with the fact that we were able to drive from the back and into the top 10 in the final three laps. We had a better car than where we finished, probably a top-five contender. With that said, we still have some work to do in order to have a car capable of winning on Sunday.”
Paul Menard was the lone RCR entry in the first Duel event and raced his way to fourth before contact with Kyle Busch on the backstretch caused damage to the No. 27 Peak/Menards Chevrolet. Menard continued after the contact, but the team’s poor luck was not over.
Racing mid-pack with 10 laps to go, Menard was in the wrong place at the wrong time when two cars made contact and hit the No. 27 Chevrolet. The Matt Borland-led crew went to work making repairs on pit road and got Menard back out on track within the five-minute clock.
Riding at the back of the pack to avoid any further contact, Menard ended his Duel in the 18th spot. Due to the damage sustained in Thursday night’s race, the team will go to a back-up car for Sunday’s race.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Menard. “We had a good run and I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) came up to shoot the middle and I was kind of side drafting and we just came together. We had a good run with the Peak/Menards Chevy. It was tight, but fast all night long. We could get some momentum, just couldn’t do much once we got towards the front.
“I’m proud of my guys,” he said. “We shook some rust off from the off-season and will be ready for the Daytona 500.”
Coverage of Sunday’s Daytona 500 begins at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.