|PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images|
by Brock Beard
Ty Dillon finished last in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel Race 1 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #77 Ferris Chevrolet finished under power, one lap down, after 60 laps.
At the end of last season, it was already known that Ty Dillon would not return to Petty GMS Racing in 2023. He’d started the year in spectacular fashion, winning the Last Chance Qualifier for the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum before he was penalized for jumping the restart. But just one top-ten finish followed – a 10th in a Gain-sponsored Chevrolet at the Bristol Dirt Race. As Noah Gragson prepared to challenge for Rookie of the Year in Ty’s place, Ty landed at Spire Motorsports in the #77, a car that last year was shared by four different drivers.
After failing to make this year’s Clash through the final Last Chance Qualifier, Ty arrived in Daytona ten days later ready to put up his time once more. In Round 1, Ty ran the 39th-fastest time with a speed of 176.315mph (51.045 seconds), just ahead of his new teammate Corey LaJoie in the #7.
Rolling off 21st and last in Thursday’s Duel Race 1 was Kaulig Racing’s newest hire, former Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series driver Chandler Smith. Combined with his full-time XFINITY effort for Kaulig, Chandler was entered in a third “open” Cup team under the Kaulig banner, carrying sponsorship from Quick Tie, Inc. With no practice before Wednesday’s qualifying, however, the team was unable to discover an electrical issue until Chandler was on the track, where he turned in the session’s slowest completed lap at 165.022mph (51.422 seconds). Repairs incurred him a redundant tail-end penalty for Thursday’s race, the only penalty handed down before the start.
When the green flag dropped, Chandler Smith started by himself on the inside of the final row, and by following the draft from Austin Dillon’s #3 Bass Pro Shops Club Chevrolet, pulled 0.139 second ahead of Ty, whose #77 was the last car on the outside line. Chandler then pulled to the high lane with Dillon down low as both shook out Cody Ware in the #51 Biohaven / Jacob Construction Ford. Ware was last at the stripe, 0.144 back of Ty, but only held the spot for just over a lap.
Alex Bowman, who scored his record sixth consecutive front-row start in the Daytona 500 with his third pole, dropped to last on Lap 3 in his #48 Ally Chevrolet. That time by, Bowman was already 1.373 seconds back of the lead and 0.463 back of 20th-place Ware. “Obviously, you know hat the ultimate goal is here,” Bowman’s crew told him. Still under green, while 20th place continued to change hands as the field first raced side-by-side, then in single-file formation, Bowman’s deficit grew. He was 1.794 behind 20th place on Lap 6, 6.212 on Lap 9, 20.691 on Lap 16, and 28.482 on Lap 20. That time by, Bowman’s crew asked about the car’s balance, to which Bowman provided a couple details about how his car handled when others bumped him.
While the Chevrolet teams began pitting on Lap 22, Bowman stayed out, and he soon caught another car. A.J. Allmendinger stalled on pit road, and was by himself in the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet. Bowman caught him on Lap 24, the two just one-tenth of a second apart, and the #48 made the pass the next time by. But by then, two other drivers were handed pit road speeding penalties, dropping them to the final two spots. First came Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose #47 Cottonelle Chevrolet was too fast in Section 12, and became the first lapped car on the 25th circuit. The other was Chandler Smith, whose struggles continued after his penalty on Lap 26. Both remained in the final two spots even after Ty Gibbs received a penalty of his own for speeding in his #54 Monster Energy / Interstate Batteries Toyota. Gibbs stayed in touch with the tail end of the field and began to climb up the order once more.
On Lap 38, Stenhouse also caught the tail end of a drafting pack, and was soon bracketed by Zane Smith in the #36 Wellcare Ford. Zane – of no relation to Chandler – was in direct competition with Chandler to transfer into the Daytona 500 field. Zane could see Chandler in his rear-view mirror, but some distance behind. Chandler had the misfortune of running by himself, stranded between two single-file lines that contained the remainder of the entire field. With still no cautions, it appeared the electrical issue in qualifying would cost Chandler his shot at his Cup debut.
Bowman pitted for the final time with 20 laps to go, dropping from 17th and losing a lap, but most importantly keeping his pole-winning car in one piece. This dropped Bowman to last on Lap 43 as Chandler Smith passed him through Turns 1 and 2. On Lap 49, Bowman dropped Cody Ware to last for a second time, and the #51 briefly showed two laps down on the running order. This did not occur on pit road as Ware did not make any more stops past the halfway point.
One who did pit was Ty, who after running as high as 13th came in with just five to go. There, an apparent miscommunication over a four or two-tire stop caused Ty to leave his stall with the right-rear wheel loose. The driver stopped and quickly returned to his stall, losing a lap before returning to the track. He took last from Ware on Lap 59, just seconds from the finish, and took the checkered flag on track.
With all cars still running at the finish, Cody Ware, Ty Gibbs, Chandler Smith, and Alex Bowman completed the Bottom Five, all of them one lap down to race winner Joey Logano. Chandler was the first driver eliminated from the 500 field as Zane Smith secured his place with an 8th-place finish. Zane will start 17th on Sunday with Ty Dillon back in 37th.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #77 in a Duel race since February 20, 2014, when Dave Blaney’s #77 Plinker Arms Ford did not start following a practice crash with Parker Kligerman that destroyed the Randy Humphrey team’s only car.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
21) #77-Ty Dillon / 59 laps / running
20) #51-Cody Ware / 59 laps / running
19) #54-Ty Gibbs / 59 laps / running
18) #13-Chandler Smith / 59 laps / running
17) #48-Alex Bowman / 59 laps / running
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