Signs point to thrilling finish at Sunday’s Daytona 500

NASCAR’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels, the qualifiers that formed the majority of the Daytona 500’s field, are typically revealing races of what could possibly happen three days later in the Great American Race.

That theory held true Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell left the iconic track with checkered flags after each recorded his first Duel win, but it was not their car manufacturer — Toyota — that was the focal point in the victories.

It was the fact that two young playoff drivers from last season, hard chargers in elite equipment, led exactly one lap around the World Center of Racing in finishing first.

Reddick, 28, outdueled Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet over the last half-lap around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, staying low and hugging the bottom lane.

Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Bell did the same later with his No. 20 Camry XSE by beating Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin the final time around.

Two laps led, two wins.

If anything is to be learned from the qualifiers, it is that a driver just needs to be in the top four or five when the white flag flies.

Also that piloting the lead car is not necessarily advantageous.

A Cup Series winner on the DIS road course three years ago, Bell said it was good to have familiar faces around him.

“I was really nervous on that last restart because I saw pretty much the whole field was lined up on the outside, and we didn’t have many on the inside,” said Bell, who will line up beside Reddick in Row 2. “These Toyotas were super, super fast and John Hunter (Nemechek), myself and Denny (Hamlin) were able to connect and get back up front.”

In Wednesday’s qualifying session, Joey Logano earned his first pole for Sunday’s 66th running of the annual race.

It was Team Penske’s first-ever Daytona 500 pole and the first for a Ford driver since Carl Edwards grabbed the top spot in 2012.

Logano’s hot lap ended the stranglehold Hendrick Motorsports had on the race’s poles: Owner Rick Hendrick’s drivers had snared the last nine top qualifying positions.

At 33, Logano became the oldest pole winner since former Hendrick wheelman Jeff Gordon did it at 43 in 2015, a race in which Logano won his only 500.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and rookie Kaz Grala raced their way into the 40-car field, while J.J. Yeley and BJ McLeod failed to get in.

“It was intense,” said Johnson, who won the race in 2006 and 2013. “With probably three to go, (Yeley) threw a great block on me on the frontstretch and it kind of perked me up and I realized just what kind of battle I was in for in the closing laps.

“This is not easy, and it stinks that a car has got to go home. (Yeley) put up a heck of a fight and we’re fortunate to get in.”

A Boston native who will make his third start in the 200-lapper, Grala will slot in 26th with his No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

“Really cool to be able to get it in the show for them,” said Grala, 25. “Real big opportunity for me. Excited to be here on Sunday again.”