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Kyle Busch wins Duel 2 as strong cars torn up in late wreck

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kyle Busch was a winner in more than just taking the checkered flag first in his Daytona 500 qualifying race Thursday.

He also doesn't have to go to a backup car.

The defending Sprint Cup champion led 35 of the final 37 laps, including the last 21 of the 60-lap race, which ended under caution as Jamie McMurray pinched Jimmie Johnson to trigger a last-lap crash.

"I'm definitely more happy with the win tonight [than saving the car]," Busch said after his third Can-Am Duel victory. "Any time you get to go to Victory Lane, it's just a little bit more special.

"As of right now, we do still have the opportunity to tear up our car [in practice] and start in a backup, too. Let's not start with that. All in all, with the way tonight went, the way our speed has been, I'm pretty optimistic for Sunday."

Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger will all go to backup cars for the Daytona 500 and have to fall to the rear of the field for the start Sunday.

Busch might start the Daytona 500 on the front row Sunday, depending on whether pole sitter Chase Elliott chooses the inside lane or the outside lane. If Elliott chooses the inside, then Busch would move up and start on the front row when Kenseth falls to the rear of the field during Sunday's pace laps. If Elliott chooses the outside, then Busch would start behind him in fourth while Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winner of Duel 1, would move up to the front row on the inside of Elliott as Kenseth falls to the rear.

"We'll get a chance to [possibly] start on the front row," Busch said. "That's pretty cool."

It seems everything is going well for Busch, who didn't have to make any daring moves to win the race as Earnhardt had to do in the first one Thursday. Busch was leading as McMurray and Johnson battled behind him and the wreck ensued. If McMurray could have gotten a clean block on Johnson, it is possible that Johnson could have pushed McMurray by Busch.

Then again, Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing cars looked much stronger this February at Daytona than a year ago. Busch was confident he had a good shot of holding off the opposition for the win even if they got a run on him and the caution never came out.

"It's so hard to get a big enough run on the leader and to time it all exactly perfect to get the lead over that guy -- you can see the leader still be able to block pretty well," Busch said.

"I think with the [qualifying] races, though, you see everything a lot slower. Runs aren't as big than you'll see in the Daytona 500 because you'll have twice the amount of cars essentially."

Maybe it was just time for Busch to have some good fortune at Daytona, the place where he broke his right leg and left foot in the Xfinity Series opener a year ago. Busch won't even get in his car Saturday -- he won't practice after Friday and he won't race another Xfinity restrictor-plate event again.

The race featured little drama beyond the final lap. Matt DiBenedetto finished as the top driver among those not guaranteed a spot in the field. He didn't have to earn a spot that way, as he could have fallen back on his qualifying speed. Instead, Robert Richardson Jr. got the final spot in the Daytona 500 field.

McMurray finished second, with Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon rounding out the top five.

"I didn't think the 48 [of Johnson] was going to have enough of a run," McMurray said. "I stalled out when I got near the 18 [of Busch]. I never felt [Johnson] touch me.

"I don't know if it was the disturbance in the air off my car coming up. There wasn't a mark on the car."

There were plenty of marks on the cars torn up through the field. But hey, that's restrictor-plate racing.

"We're racing -- they are split-second decisions," Johnson said. "It's hard to put a lot of blame on somebody when you're racing at split-second decisions."