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Auto racing: Formality duels yield no surprising results

DAYTONA BEACH – The whole “qualifying” spin with the twin Budweiser Duel is really a marketing pitch. None of the marquee drivers in NASCAR was in any great danger of failing to make the Great American Race on Sunday.

A total of 45 drivers competed in the two races Thursday afternoon, with only two drivers going home and not making the 43-car field for the Daytona 500.

After you cut through the fine print, following are the significant takeaways.

Kevin Harvick continued his blistering Speedweeks, winning the first duel race after winning the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night. Kyle Busch won the second race, pushing two of NASCAR’s most aggressive drivers toward the front of the field.

Danica Patrick didn’t crash, a situation that would have pushed her to the back of the field and taken the historic edge off her qualifying last Sunday.

Michael Waltrip, driving a car honoring the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, made the race, as well.

He needed to finish 15th to qualify, which is exactly where he finished.

Only Patrick and Jeff Gordon were assured of their top two starting slots after their qualifying efforts Sunday. Everybody else “raced” to get in Thursday, although it was mostly anticlimactic.

Protective of her position, Patrick raced cautiously during the first 60-lap sprint race.

“It’s no fun,” she said, “but it’s also really ignorant to go drive up in the pack and be part of an accident for really no reason. Just finished the race off. It ended up a little like a test session for us.”

Odd men out

The two drivers who did not qualify for the 43-car field are Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss.

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