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Daytona Duel takeaways: Dillon brother dichotomy, Bubba Wallace’s lessons

It was a dramatic night at Daytona International Speedway, as Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon made late moves to seize wins in Duel 1 and 2 respectively.

The brothers Dillon were both part of Thursday night’s exciting finishes in the Duels at Daytona International Speedway.

One brother was left celebrating. The other was left on the outside looking in.

The second Duel saw Austin Dillon challenge and then outmaneuver Bubba Wallace for the win on the final lap of overtime.

His victory came after Ty Dillon, driving a non-chartered entry for Gaunt Brothers Racing, was narrowly denied entry to the Daytona 500 in the first duel.

“I thought (Ty) did a great job tonight,” Austin Dillon said after his win in Duel 2. “I’m really bummed for him. He took the 96 car into a position that they needed to be to make the race. (Gaunt Brothers Racing) didn’t make it last year.

“I felt like he did a really good job of driving that car. They were fast. It’s just a bummer that he’s got to go home and you see other cars that he beat that are going to be in the race.”

MORE: Daytona 500 starting lineup

Ty Dillon, who has been relegated to part-time racing since the demise of Germain Racing over the offseason, looked set to enter “The Great American Race” on the final lap of Duel 1.

But in the rush to the checkered flag, the field closed in on the leaders - including Ryan Preece, who caught and beat Ty Dillon to the line for fifth place.

As the fastest non-chartered driver from Wednesday’s single-car qualifying, Preece was already in the Daytona 500. But with Preece being the highest-finishing non-chartered driver from Duel 1, Cindric made the Daytona 500 on his qualifying speed.

Gaunt Brothers Racing summed it up with one word on Twitter: Heartbreak.

“It’s been just unique this offseason for me with the ups and downs,” Ty Dillon said. “It’s a blessing to get to drive a race car in NASCAR first of all - and you get so close to being in the Daytona 500 again. It’s tough.”

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to continue to drive race cars. I believe in myself that I can get it done in these races and to finish sixth and not get any reward for it is hard. I’ll get the great reward of spending time with my kids on Sunday and we’ll probably watch the race. It definitely hurts.”

Despite the setback, Austin Dillon found his younger brother to be in “really good spirits” when they met afterwards.

“I just said, ‘Man, I feel for you, in other terms,” Austin Dillon said. “He looked at me and said, ‘God has other plans for me.’

“He was just calm in that moment of, like, adrenaline and hurt. It was cool to hear it from him.”

Duel disaster for Hendrick?

Hendrick Motorsports’ front row for Sunday is in jeopardy following Thursday’s Duels.

What’s known for sure: William Byron is going to a backup car after being collected in a crash with four laps to go in Duel 2. He will abandon his second-place spot on the Daytona 500 grid as a result.

What’s not known is the fate of teammate Alex Bowman’s pole-winning No. 48 Chevrolet.

A engine issue on the car developed and forced Bowman to pit road midway through the race, where his crew worked to diagnose it.

Bowman eventually returned to the track and finished 20th.

Afterwards, crew chief Greg Ives said that his driver had “felt and heard something in the engine, which turned into a vibration in the chassis.”

Already locked into the race, Ives took the opportunity to run through potential problems.

“We talked through engine diagnostics and sent some guys over pit wall who don’t normally go over the wall,” he said. “Our team was able to go through some tire sets to make sure it wasn’t that. There were a lot of things you always think you are going to be prepared for until you actually go through them.

“I feel like we did a good job understanding it and hopefully, we are able to diagnose it and make sure everything is good.”

Bowman was confident that his team will get the matter sorted in time for Sunday.

“There is definitely something going on, but it looks like the engine is good which is the important thing,” he said. “The Hendrick Motorsports engine shop does a great job with our engines and that thing is totally fine. We just have something going on that is shaking the car, so we just have to figure that out.”

Chad Knaus, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, said Friday morning that the team believes the engine is fine but further examination was taking place.

Hunger for more

Bubba Wallace came close to a win in Duel 2 with his new 23XI Racing team, but his reaction afterwards brooked no argument for moral victories.

“A lot of mistakes,” Wallace told FS1 about his performance. “A good debut, but nothing to be really happy about for myself. It’s okay for drivers to be hard on themselves. That’s how we motivate ourselves to go out and do better.

“Hats off to my guys – the 23XI team – for building me a great DoorDash Toyota Camry. I tried to do all I could to help (Martin) Truex there, get Toyota a win. I appreciate Kyle (Busch) for cutting me a lot of breaks.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn here, but all in all, it was a good night, but I’ve got some learning to do.”

Later on Twitter, Wallace posted a GIF of a frustrated child. That earned a reply from his crew chief, Mike Wheeler:

Having won the Daytona 500 in 2016 with Denny Hamlin, Wheeler knows the real battle is coming.

And near-miss aside, there was a lot to like from Wallace and the No. 23 team on Thursday night/Friday morning. He arguably had the strongest car in the Duel 2 field along with William Byron.

But Byron couldn’t get his car back to the garage unscathed. Wallace did. With that, he’s set himself up as a legitimate contender for Sunday.

Make it happen

Austin Cindric’s hopes of making the Daytona 500 appeared dashed after his pit road speeding penalty on Lap 34 of the first Duel.

Cindric said the penalty made him feel like “the smallest person in the world,” but he knew he had to regroup and find a way to make a difference.

He did just that. Down a lap to the leaders, he helped push Ryan Preece toward Ty Dillon coming to the finish. Preece was able to beat Dillon at the line, enabling Cindric to enter Sunday’s race.

“If I had a radio to (Preece), I would have told him I was buying him modified tires, dinner, whatever he needs,” Cindric said. “I don’t think he really knew the scenario. Even when I talked to him on pit road after the Duel, I don’t think he understood what the scenario was there.

“I was definitely trying to get linked up. But at that point on the final lap, I knew that I was behind him and had a chance to shove. No matter what was happening in the lanes in front of me ... I was pushing. I never lifted. That was what my job was. It obviously worked out for the best.”

The reigning Xfinity Series champion now turns his attention to Saturday’s Xfinity season opener and what will be his Cup debut on Sunday.

Cindric quickly noted the competition jump from Xfinity to Cup on Thursday night.

“Early on in the night when I was lined up on the first couple rows there, I was very cognizant of who I was racing - trying to understand what they were doing, learning,” he said. “I learned a lot in those first 30 laps about how guys manage things, in a lot of ways I enjoyed it.

“I really enjoyed it. It’s everybody doing everything right. You have to be perfect. That’s the kind of racing I like. That’s what you want as a competitor, to be racing against the best.

“You can tell immediately. Nothing against the guys that race in the Xfinity Series, but I think there’s definitely a step up and there’s definitely more for me to learn.”