DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Two races, two very different levels of competition.
The Daytona 500 is days away and no one knows what kind of race to expect.
"If I knew that I'd be a bookie in Las Vegas making millions of dollars," Tony Stewart said. "But I can't imagine that you put 43 cars out there and it won't be a race."
Defending Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and reigning Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon each won a Gatorade 125-mile qualifying race Thursday
Gordon won the uneventful opener, taking the lead from rookie teammate Jimmie Johnson on the first turn of the first lap and led the rest of the way. Waltrip won the second one by holding off Stewart at the end after two cautions slowed the race.
"Our race was pretty conservative," Gordon said. "Most of the guys played it pretty conservative. In the second race, with the cautions coming out, that allowed a lot of guys to make some moves and take some chances."
Gordon led a five-car breakaway in the first race, and held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win. Gordon was not challenged in a dull race.
Waltrip, whose only career victory came here a year ago, barely held off Stewart in the second race at the head of a tightly bunched 17-car pack. Waltrip won by about a car-length.
Gordon and Waltrip will start from the second row of the 43-car field in Sunday's Daytona 500, behind only polesitter Johnson and Kevin Harvick, who earned their front-row positions Saturday in first-round qualifying.
But it's anybody's guess how that event will be. Under NASCAR's old rules package, the cars stayed bunched together in restrictor-plate races allowing drivers to advance several positions in a short amount of time.
That allowed some drivers to sit in the back of the field most of the race, then make a late charge in the final laps. But the rules have changed and it's still unclear what will happen on Sunday.
"Whoever is out front is going to be there," said Earnhardt Jr., who also finished second in a non-points, 70-lap shootout here last Sunday.
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