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Brad Keselowski outduels Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the first stage at Daytona

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 01: Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Patriotic Chevrolet, races Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Defending Coke Zero 400 winner Brad Keselowski picked up where he left off a year ago at Daytona International Speedway, winning the first stage Saturday night.

The Team Penske driver fended off late charges by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney to win his third stage of the 2017 season.

Earnhardt, likely racing for the final time in the summertime Cup race at Daytona, finished second in the 40-lap stage after starting on the pole position. Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Michael McDowell finished sixth, followed by Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and David Ragan.

Harvick fell to 19th after leading with 10 to go, missing the chance to gain stage points.

Denny Hamlin rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel on the 12th lap. He stayed on the lead lap and restarted the second stage in second.

Blaney restarted the second stage in 35th because he missed his first entry to the pits after contact with Joey Logano.

There were two early cautions in the first stage for engine failures. Cole Whitt’s powerplant let go in the No. 72 Chevrolet on the ninth lap, bringing out a yellow for two laps.

DJ Kennington spun on the 15th lap after the engine in his No. 15 Toyota expired, bringing out a three-lap caution that served as a competition caution that originally had been scheduled for halfway point of the 40-lap stage.

Ryan Sieg also had early trouble, completing only seven laps in the No. 83 Toyota and finishing last.

Click here for the results of the first stage.