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Daytona fields the 500 with two very different qualifiers

Conor Daly during the NASCAR Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday in Daytona Beach, Fla.

One reason the Daytona 500 is different from most other NASCAR races is that it qualifies the majority of the field through two 150-mile qualifying races. In traditional single-seater qualifying, only the front row is decided.

Sometimes it leads to exciting rides, dangerous passages and breathtaking turns. Other times it can be a single file race to a spirited but unsuccessful attempt to take the lead into the final corner. On Thursday, you had one of each.

The first race was a bit of a yawn with Joey Logano holding off Christopher Bell to win by just 0.018 seconds. But it was the second race that provided the drama for the night as Kyle Busch led on lap 40 of 60 with Daniel Suarez inches from the fender. The thumbs became nonexistent sending Busch into the wall and out of the race.

There were six cars involved in the crash, but none more affected than Austin Hill, who was in the process of qualifying for his first 500. Hill was one of six drivers who did not automatically qualify for the race but had to race for enter They are known as “open” or “unrented”.

There were four spots available and Jimmie Johnson and Travis Pastrana had already earned their way by posting the two best times in Wednesday qualifying. This meant that the top two runners not named Johnson or Pastrana would also qualify if they were the open best finishers.

But Hill was picked up in the Busch crash along with Suarez, Pastrana, Riley Herbst and Justin Haley. Suarez and Haley made it back but the others were out.

Aric Almirola won the race by 0.0122 over Austin Cindric, last year’s 500 winner.

The beneficiary was Conor Daly, a full-time Indy Car driver, who hoped to race in only his second NASCAR race and his first Daytona 500.

“When we got out, the car was bouncing,” Daly said. “I had no idea what was going on. I thought the transmission was broken and… [crew chief] Tony [Eury, Jr.] just made better every time [we stopped]. We’ve been lucky with yellows to try and gain experience, but it’s pretty crazy.”

The story continues

The other last chance qualifier for Sunday’s race was Huntington Beach’s Zane Smith, who finished eighth in the first race.

Kyle Larson (5) and Aric Almirola, upper left, lead the field to start the second of two qualifying races for the NASCAR Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“Yeah, my emotions are definitely weird, how big is this event,” Smith said. “You don’t realize it’s coming until you try. It was crazy, all the media and just all the hype behind it.

It is the first time that the defending series champions Cup (Logano), Xfinity (Ty Gibbs) and Truck (Smith) have all participated in the Daytona 500.

Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion, finished 14th and will start from 29th on Sunday.

“I wish we had finished a little better but we had a lot of great reps for the…team,” Johnson said. “I’ve got new standout guys, a new spotter, a new team boss, a new team – to have all of that behind us is really nice and I think it was a really successful day.”

When the Daytona schedule came out, many drivers were complaining that their first chance to race other cars would be in Thursday qualifying. The event is called SpeedWeeks, but the claim comes on a technicality because the 500 is Sunday, the start of the new week. It’s more like SpeedDays. Five to be exact.

“We don’t have much track time anymore,” said Logano. “We didn’t train [Wednesday], so we didn’t take a tour. So you shoot the first lap and you’re bumping and banging and you’re like, I hope you ride well when you get there.

“I want to go back and … come up with a game plan for training [Friday] and how we can tune our car a little better. Not bad. Of course it’s fast. Handles quite well. … Just kind of little things that you can fine-tune, which is a nice place to be, right?

Ford won both races on Thursday. The producer has won nine of the last 12 duels and has seven of the top 11 spots in the starting lineup. But Chevrolet has the two front row seats. It will take 500 miles on Sunday to determine where is the best place to stay. Or maybe it’s who has more luck.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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