By Tim Packman

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – The Duels at Daytona on Thursday night set the starting line-up for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

New car, minimal back-up ones and two teams are going to be headed home when the checkered flags fly at Daytona International Speedway. That’s enough drama to get your attention.

But, what can one expect? That depends on which drivers you inquire answers about the racing aspect.

Joey Logano is a past Daytona 500 Champion, is locked in and has his strategy ready to roll.

“I can’t speak for the whole field on what they are thinking, but I don’t see myself racing any different in the Duel than I will in the 500,” said the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford. “I am planning to go race. I think as soon as you get scared of crashing and those type of things, you are never going to win.

“So, I am going to go race and if we crash, so be it, we will figure it out. I don’t really know exactly how the Duels are going to look. All I can control is what I am going to do.”

Crashing was an accepted aspect of Duels of days past at Daytona. Just roll out the back-up car, get it ready and continue racing.

However, with supply chain issues and parts shortages, almost every team has only one car here. That one car has to get them through the Duels and practices leading up to Sunday.

Timid and tepid may be the way as teams try to hold on to their only bullet in the chamber, so to speak.

Ryan Blaney is the most-recent Daytona winner after taking the checkered flag in last August’s race. Being this Next Gen car is so new to everyone, the driver of the No. 12 Ford admits some on the job training is taking place with every lap.

“If your car can’t take a push, and it’s unstable, no one is going to want to push you if they see that,” Blaney said. “So, we’ve always put a big emphasis on drivability of our race cars. I’ll get a better idea for that in the Duels, but to an extent you don’t want to go out there and wreck your 500 car in the Duels.

“It’s a fine line of seeing what you’ve got, and what you maybe need to work on, but not putting yourself in a bad spot.”

NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott shared how that learning curve is still going on, and will certainly continue in the Duels. Even though there has been testing and now some practice at Daytona, the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet isn’t sure what to expect.

“To me, that’s probably the question that hasn’t really been answered and until we get into that environment, it probably won’t be,” Elliott said. “The little bit of drafting that has gone on, there’s just not really been enough – at least of what I’ve been a part of – there hasn’t been enough cars to really create the energy.

“I have even often – in my experience – have noticed that in the Duels, there’s really not enough cars in that event and enough sense of urgency in the runs that happen on Thursday night as they do on Sunday.

“Until we get in that environment, it’s really honestly hard to say.”

Kevin Harvick is a past NASCAR Cup Series and Daytona 500 champion. While teams, drivers and fans look at practice time and speeds to see where they stack up, Harvick takes a different approach to racing at Daytona and watching scoring monitors.

“I don’t, I try to stay oblivious to all of that stuff,” said the No. 4 Ford driver. “I just feel like, when you start looking — like the qualifying thing – I honestly don’t know what the lap time was yesterday just because I feel like if we do all the things we are supposed to do, we will be in the mix.

“If it is fast, it is fast. If it drives right, it will draft well and do the things we need to and it will be fine once you get to Sunday.”

And, getting to the Great American Race on Sunday is the goal. However, surviving the Duels are the gateway and team cars have to get past that aspect, first.

Seeing how it’s done this year, will be the key.


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