Daly, a late entry from boxer Floyd Mayweather’s The Money Team to drive its No. 50 Chevrolet, has little NASCAR experience having only started four races across its three divisions since 2018.
The 31-year-old had to race his way into the 40-car field in the second of two 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway, but his odds of making the cut appeared slim.
Daly was never able to make a qualifying attempt on Wednesday night due to an electrical issue, meaning his first lap on the track would be when the qualifying race went green.
Right from the start, Daly knew it was going to be a difficult night as he reported his car was shaking terribly once he left pit road. The situation didn’t get much better once the race got underway and he was soon a lap down.
But the entire situation took a drastic turn on lap 41 of 60, when Daniel Suarez got into the back of Kyle Busch and sent his Trackhouse Chevrolet into the wall which collected several other drivers. Among them were Austin Hill and Travis Pastrana, the other drivers in the race from unchartered teams.
Due to damage, Hill and Pastrana both ended up in the garage, which meant Daly would claim a spot in the 500 field regardless of how he finished the race.
He ended up 17th and two laps down on winner Aric Almirola – but the details mattered little afterwards. Pastrana (23XI Toyota) made it in on qualifying pace, but Hill’s Beard Motorsports Chevrolet missed the cut.
“Well, we were inherently unlucky for the last 36 hours, but we got lucky,” said Daly, who will become the 62nd driver in history to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500.
Start action Duel 2
Photo by: NASCAR Media
“I wish I could have said that I drove it in on pure pace, but it was just crazy.
“When we went out there, the car was bouncing around. I had no idea what was going on.
“I thought the drivetrain was broken, and (the team) just made it better every time (we pit). We got lucky with the yellows to try to get some experience, but it is pretty crazy.
“This race, I’ve watched it for so many years and so much crazy stuff can happen, and thankfully we were on the right side of the craziness. It’s pretty amazing.”
Hill, a winner at Daytona in Trucks (2019) and the Xfinity Series (20220) was left to lament his decision to stay with the pack, rather than backing out of the draft and focusing on finishing ahead of Daly.
“It’s a bummer because we knew where the 50 [Daly] was and we knew that he was multiple laps down and all we had to do was beat him,” he said.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be in the 500 from where the 50 was running and really it was just being dumb on my part. There is just no reason for that.
“I was the one holding the steering wheel and I should have just seen what was happening and just let those guys do their thing and we just fall back.
“Even if we fall laps down, it doesn’t matter as long as we stay in front of the 50. It stings.”
Reigning NASCAR Truck Series champion Zane Smith ran a solid race in the first qualifying race in his Front Row Motorsports Ford and ended up finishing eighth – the best-placed driver among the unchartered teams – to secure his spot in the field.
Seven-time Cup champion and team owner Jimmie Johnson claimed the other spot from the race based his Wednesday night qualifying speed, but Chandler Smith missed out after a speeding penalty in a race that went caution-free left the Kaulig Chevrolet driver 18th.