Thanks to Scott Speed, Michael Waltrip will start the Daytona 500 for the 24th consecutive year.

By claiming the second of two transfer positions in the second of Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races, Speed promoted Waltrip into the 43rd starting position in Sunday's race - less than two hours after a hard crash in the first Duel had put Waltrip in jeopardy of failing to make the field.

Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, had posted the fifth fastest time of drivers required to qualify on speed and needed either Speed or Bobby Labonte (who were second- and fourth-fastest in time trials among drivers not guaranteed a spot in the 500 field) to transfer via the Duel in order to salvage a spot in the race.

"I figured when I woke up this morning I'd be crying before the day was over," Waltrip said. "I just didn't know if it would be because I was happy or because I was sad. And then I damn sure didn't know it would be both within an hour of each other."

Both Waltrip and Speed, a former F1 competitor, drive Toyotas, but Waltrip said they are kindred spirits in other respects.

"We've golfed and goofed off together before," Waltrip said. "You know, people don't think I'm that bright at times, and I couldn't care less. People think he's weird, and he doesn't care, too. That's how we formed our relationship. Two people that are comfortable with who they are and don't really care a whole bunch about what other people think about that.

"And, you know, I've never got my toenails done (Speed has been known to have his painted), but if that's what makes him happy, I'm going to support him. I did get a pedicure the other day, so maybe I'm heading that direction."

And now, thanks to Speed, Waltrip is heading to the grid of NASCAR's most important race.

Meanwhile after catching a piece of the wreck that started with contact between Waltrip and Regan Smith on lap 53 for the first Duel, Jeff Gordon will go to a back-up car for the Daytona 500 - despite finishing 10th in the qualifying race.

"We got a little bit loose that second half of the race and made an adjustment and freed the car up a little too much," said Gordon, a three-time winner of the 500.

"I felt like we learned a lot. Unfortunately, we tore up the car when Michael and Regan got together."

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News



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