Dale Earnhardt Junior and Kyle Busch win Thursday’s qualifying races as the starting field was set for Sunday’s Daytona 500. For the second year in a row, Earnhardt won the first half of the doubleheader and will start third in “The Great American Race.” With his victory in the nightcap, Busch secured the Number-4 starting spot in the Sprint Cup Series season opener – picking right up where he left off in his 2015 championship season three months ago. After starting second in Thursday’s 150-mile qualifier, Busch led a race-high thirty-five laps including the final twenty-one trips around Daytona International Speedway’s two-point-five-mile oval. Jamie McMurray finished second with Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon completing the top five. Matt Kenseth started from the pole, led the first twenty-three laps before yielding to Busch and finished sixteenth in the twenty-two-car field … In the first half of Thursday’s Can-Am Duel, Earnhardt grabbed an early lead and kept his Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in front for forty-three of the sixty laps, beating runner-up Joey Logano to the checkered flag by eighteen one-hundredths of a second.
Rookie Ryan Blaney finished third with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin completing the top five. Daytona 500 pole winner Chase Elliott placed sixth … With thirty-six of the forty Daytona 500 starting spots guaranteed to NASCAR’s freshly minted “Charter” teams, there were just four spots available for non-Charter drivers. Those went to Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell and Robert Richardson Junior. With forty-four drivers entered this year, four failed to qualify: David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson, Cole Whitt and Josh Wise.