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Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2017

The top two starting positions for the 2017 Daytona 500 were determined in qualifying, with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting first and second, respectively, but the rest of the field will be sorted out in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels.

Each duel is comprised of 21 drivers, with their starting spots based on qualifying times. The winner of each duel will make up the second row for the Daytona 500, and the rest of field will be filled out in accordance with the finishing order of the duels.

The Can-Am Duels provide fans with an ideal preview for the Great American Race, and with four drivers competing for the final two spots in the field, there is added drama as well.

Ahead of Thursday’s duels, here is a look at everything you need to know in order to watch, along with predictions for how each duel will play out.

 

Where: Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida

When: Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. ET

TV: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

 

Duel 1 Lineup

Daytona Duel 1 Starting Order
1 Chase Elliott
2 Brad Keselowski
3 Martin Truex Jr.
4 Kevin Harvick
5 Matt Kenseth
6 Kyle Busch
7 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
8 Daniel Suarez
9 Joey Logano
10 Trevor Bayne
11 Paul Menard
12 Jamie McMurray
13 Aric Almirola
14 Landon Cassill
15 Matt DiBenedetto
16 Chris Buescher
17 Brendan Gaughan
18 Cole Whitt
19 Reed Sorenson
20 Joey Gase
21 Corey LaJoie
NASCAR.com

 

Duel 1 Prediction

With three career duel wins to his credit, Kyle Busch is the most successful Daytona Duel driver in the entire Duel 1 field.

He was victorious in a duel last year, and he enters this year’s Daytona 500 with a great deal of focus on accomplishing one of the few accolades he has yet reach in the Cup Series.

As part of an interview on KyleBusch.com, Busch admitted that winning the Daytona 500 is his primary goal: “The No. 1, most important thing is trying to win the Daytona 500. After that, we will try to win the Coke 600 at Charlotte, or really any Cup race at Charlotte, which I haven’t been able to do, yet. Past that, to be able to win at Pocono, which is the only other place besides Charlotte where I haven’t won a Cup race.”

He continued:


Winning at Martinsville and getting a Grandfather Clock and winning at Kansas, where I haven’t been very good in my career, were both really special last year. Beyond that, I would certainly still like to win 200 overall NASCAR races, but that may be down the line a bit. Those are some of the bucket-list things that would be cool to accomplish someday. We still have plenty to accomplish but I’m excited to head back to Daytona and get a new year started. Hard to believe it’s my ninth season with M&M’s on board with me.

Busch won his first Cup Series championship two seasons ago, and winning the Daytona 500 would essentially lock him into a playoff spot for the 2017 campaign.

While some drivers may take a cautious approach Thursday in the name of preserving their cars and avoiding accidents, Busch has never been one to play it safe.

His aggressiveness doesn’t always work out, but it is a huge reason why he is second among active drivers in career Cup Series wins.

With an eye toward entering victory lane on Sunday, look for the No. 18 car to cross the finish line first in the opening duel.

 

Duel 2 Lineup

Daytona Duel 2 Starting Order
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2 Clint Bowyer
3 Denny Hamlin
4 Kasey Kahne
5 Ryan Newman
6 Ty Dillon
7 Jimmie Johnson
8 Kyle Larson
9 Ryan Blaney
10 Erik Jones
11 Kurt Busch
12 Danica Patrick
13 Austin Dillon
14 AJ Allmendinger
15 Michael McDowell
16 David Ragan
17 Michael Waltrip
18 Elliott Sadler
19 D.J. Kennington
20 Jeffrey Earnhardt
21 Timmy Hill
NASCAR.com

 

Duel 2 Prediction

After missing the final 18 races of 2016 due to concussion-like symptoms, Dale Jr. hit the ground running in his return to the track by seizing the No. 2 spot in Dayton 500 qualifying.

Despite his strong performance, Earnhardt admitted that he was somewhat disappointed by not getting the pole, according to Chase Wilhelm of FoxSports.com:


I’m not satisfied. I would have liked to get the pole. Relief that we’re sort of in a favorable position being on the front row. I think the guys are a little bit disappointed. They really wanted to get the pole. I’m disappointed too, but am absolutely thrilled to have an all-Hendrick Motorsports front row.

Although Earnhardt fell just short of his goal, he maintained a positive attitude with regard to the job done by his team:


Earnhardt is locked in as the outside car on the front row, but Duel 2 provides him with an opportunity to gain even more momentum entering the Daytona 500.

No active driver has enjoyed more success in the duels than Dale Jr., as he has won on five occasions, including each of the past two years.

Earnhardt’s comments after qualifying second suggest he is hungry to be the top dog, and that figures to carry over to Duel 2.

Although he has little to gain aside from pride, Earnhardt is ecstatic to be back on the race track, and he’ll use that energy to carry him to another duel triumph.



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