Almirola, Dillon win Daytona 500 qualifying races

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — What should have been a tuneup for the Daytona 500 might have cost Hendrick Motorsports the front row for NASCAR’s season-opening spectacular.

Alex Bowman and William Byron were slated to lead the Daytona 500 field to the green flag Sunday, but that’s in trouble following Thursday night’s qualifying races. Bowman had an engine problem in the first 150-mile race, and if his motor needs to be changed, he’ll forfeit the pole.

Byron was collected in a crash in the second race that ruined his Chevrolet. He needs to move to a backup car for the 500 and the change sends him to the back of the field.

Aric Almirola won the first race, and after a rain delay pushed the second Duel into a Friday morning finish, Austin Dillon used a crossover move on Bubba Wallace to beat Wallace to the checkered flag.

Almirola, in a Ford, is slated to start behind Byron but will slide up to the front row when Byron falls to the back. Dillon, in a Chevrolet, will wait to see if Hendrick changes Bowman’s engine this weekend.

Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala both earned their first berths into the Daytona 500 by claiming the two available transfer positions in the Duels. Ty Dillon, Timmy Hill, Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson all failed to advance.

Smithley and Gragson were racing each other for the transfer spot in the second race when Smithley tried to duck around Gragson. Brad Keselowski on his outside wasn’t expecting Smithley to fill the gap and the two collided, starting a wreck that eliminated both Smithley and Gragson.

Byron was also caught in that crash.

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