A wild ending to the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel ended with Aric Almirola earning the victory and 10 points to begin the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. He led 52 of the 60 laps Thursday evening. Almirola will start third in the Daytona 500.
The 60-lap event went caution-free and many of the Fords, including Almirola, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman remained and finished at the front.
The duel was more eventful than usual at the beginning as drivers ran three-wide, causing Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman to bail out of the lead draft and hang in the back until the racing settled down.
Bowman suffered a scare as he didn’t believe he was fast enough in the draft, so he came to pit road and the hood went up as his crew looked to see if there was an issue. He returned to the track, but said there was a vibration in the car. If the No. 48 team has to change engines, Bowman will start at the rear of the field for the Daytona 500.
Meanwhile, the battle for the final two spots in The Great American Race looked as though the fourth Penske Car in Austin Cindric would be left out due to a speeding penalty. Ty Dillon remained in the lead draft for the whole race and looked to be in prime position to transfer to the 500. On the final lap, cars scrambled to gain positioning for a better lineup spot, which allowed Ryan Preece to pass Dillon at the checkers, meaning Cindric advances on speed as Preece was already locked into the 500.
Dillon will not race in the 500 on Sunday.
Duel No. 2 will take place shortly.