Aric Almirola held off Christopher Bell to win Thursday night’s first Daytona Duel qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.

As a result, he will start third in Sunday’s Daytona 500 behind the front row of pole sitter Alex Bowman and William Byron.

Almirola led 52 of 60 laps to claim the first Duel win of his career. He had finished third in his Duel in 2019 and second in his Duel in 2020.

Ryan Preece narrowly edged Ty Dillon at the checkered flag for fifth place to be the top finisher among non-chartered cars. Preece’s finish allowed Austin Cindric to make the Daytona 500 via his qualifying lap.

Cindric, the reigning Xfinity Series champion, finished 16th after a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 34.

Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill failed to make it in.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Entering a high-profile ride with Joe Gibbs Racing, Christopher Bell’s second-place finish is a boost of momentum going into Sunday. “That was kind of a first for me being able to lead the pack and I’ve got to work on leading lanes and stuff, but we’ve got a really competitive Camry and I’m excited to see what we’ve got on Sunday,” he said … With Ryan Preece making the Daytona 500 field on speed and then finishing as top non-chartered driver on Thursday, it appears his lack of worry entering Speedweek was warranted.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Gaunt Brothers Racing has failed to make the Daytona 500 in each of the last two seasons with Daniel Suarez in 2020 and Ty Dillon in 2021 … Alex Bowman finished 20th after having to work through a potential engine issue in mid-race. If the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team has to change the engine, Bowman will have to start from the rear on Sunday … Cole Custer spun and hit the wall late in the race, continuing a tough Speedweek; a mechanical issue forced him out early in Tuesday’s Busch Clash.

NOTABLE: Aric Almirola will seek his second career Cup win at Daytona on Sunday. His first Cup win came there in July 2014 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

NEXT: The season-opening Daytona 500 is Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET (FOX).


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