Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first qualifying race for the Daytona 500 to earn a starting spot on the second row for NASCAR’s biggest event.
Earnhardt dominated the 150-mile race and easily darted around leader Denny Hamlin with six laps remaining to cruise to the victory. Earnhardt led 43 of the 60 laps in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Hamlin seemed to be the only driver with a car strong enough to challenge the No. 88.
Hamlin finished fifth. Defending Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano was second and Ryan Blaney was third.
Kyle Busch won the second qualifying race, but several contenders wrecked their prized cars in a last-lap accident. Busch was trying to hold off Jamie McMurray on the final lap and briefly blocked him.
McMurray moved up the track for another try, but Jimmie Johnson was in the same space and Johnson bounced off the wall to trigger a multicar accident.
Among those who wrecked strong race cars were Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., who will all have to go to backup cars for the Daytona 500.
Kenseth had earned a front row starting spot for Sunday’s season-opener, but he’ll now forfeit it because of the crash.