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Daytona 500: Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth win qualifying races

The Daytona 500 is underway and defending NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth won the first two races to be lined up together at the Daytona International Speedway.

By JENNA FRYERAssociated Press / February 23, 2012

Daytona 500: Clockwise from bottom left, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Danica Patrick, talk to crew members during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla., Wednesday.

Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

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Roush Fenway Racing will have three cars at the front of the season-opening Daytona 500.

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Matt Kenseth won the second of the twin qualifying races Thursday with a bold pass of teammate Greg Biffle. The victory gave Kenseth a spot on the second row for Sunday's race — right behind teammates Carl Edwards and Biffle.

Tony Stewart, the defending NASCAR champion, won the first race and will line up next to Kenseth at DaytonaInternational Speedway.

Biffle was leading headed into the final lap, but he tried to block Kenseth, who dived to the inside and used a push from Jimmie Johnson to take the lead.

"Well, we were going so much faster that we were going to go by him regardless," Kenseth said. "That was his only hope, is to try to get up the track, try to line my front bumper up where I had to push him. The problem was, I was going too fast. Even if I wanted to slow down, which I didn't want to on the last lap, I couldn't have."

Robby Gordon and Michael McDowell earned the two spots up for grabs in the first race, while Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney each raced their way into the 500 in the second qualifying race.

Gordon said after he'd be willing to sell his seat to two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, who failed to qualify for the race after crashing as he tried to return to the track surface after a late pit stop. The accident means it will be the first time since 1972 neither Darrell Waltrip or Michael Waltrip will be in NASCAR's biggest race of the season.

"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," said a dejected Waltrip. "I feel like I let everybody down. I don't know what to say. It's just sad."

The two qualifying races could not have been more different, and both were far calmer than Saturday's exhibition Daytona 500. That race was the first display of new rules NASCAR implemented to break up the two-car tandem racing that fans vehemently opposed.

But the return of pack racing led to three multi-car accidents and a sling-shot pass at the end of the race that gave Kyle Busch the win over Stewart.

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