Last updated: February 20. 2014 11:45PM - 619 Views
By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The first Budweiser Duels were downgraded to something with a little less buzz at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night:

Obviously, nobody was drinking. And for sure everyone was driving responsibly, trying to avoid any major dustups that could derail plans for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Matt Kenseth won the first 150-mile sprint race in an exciting three-wide finish featuring Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne as his major threats to the finish line. The difference in first and third place was only 0.063 seconds.

The second race looked about the same for 59 ½ laps until Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas to trigger a multi-car pileup including Clint Bowyer, whose car went flying on the last lap.

Denny Hamlin won the race as he was ahead of all the carnage.

Harvick’s car later failed the post-race inspection because it exceeded the maximum spilt on the track bar. Harvick will still compete in the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying time or owner points provisional.

The duels set the starting grid for Sunday’s race beyond the first two spots, already secured by pole-sitter Austin Dillon and outside man Martin Truex Jr.

Kenseth has raced hard all week, and has emerged as a legitimate threat to win his third Daytona 500 title. And so is Hamlin, who won the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night.

The first race didn’t have nearly as much drama as the Sprint Unlimited, which included multiple crashes and only eight cars finishing the race. Nor did it have the drama of Wednesday’s practice when Parker Kligerman’s car ended upside down during practice when Kenseth slid into Joey Logano and started a chain-reaction crash involving six cars. Kligerman, nor anyone else, was injured.

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