DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Joey Logano has won the first qualifying race for the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year.
“It’s the (qualifying) Duels, not the Daytona 500,” said Logano, “but momentum is momentum.”
Logano led 19 laps in the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske in Thursday night’s 60-lap qualifying race that sets the field for the Daytona 500. He will start from the second row in Sunday’s season opener.
Logano, the 2018 NASCAR champion, was part of a three-team swap at Team Penske during the offseason that paired him with Paul Wolfe, former crew chief for teammate Brad Keselowski. The duo got their first experience working together last weekend in an exhibition event in which a block Logano threw on Kyle Busch triggered a crash and harsh criticism from Keselowski.
Logano did not seem bothered by the start of Speedweeks and the first qualifying race was much calmer than last week’s Busch Clash. That event was marred by multiple accidents and only six cars were running at the finish.
“We worked out some of the kinks last week,” he said. “We’re just ready to go to the Daytona 500.”
Ford drivers have now won four of the last five Daytona qualifying races. The remainder of the Daytona 500 field is set by a second 125-mile race.
The front row is set by time trials, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. already won the pole. William Byron will start next to him as Chevrolets took the top two spots on speed.
Justin Haley, winner of the July race at Daytona International Speedway last year, raced his way into the 500 field, as did Reed Sorenson in the first qualifier.
“Proud we made the race and this gets the ball rolling for a small team,” Sorenson said. “Everything that happens from this point is icing on the cake.”
Sorenson said he will have the green light to race hard Sunday, and repeatedly praised the Earnhardt Childress Racing engine in his car as the best he’s had at Daytona in nearly a decade.
His success came at the expense of Daniel Suarez, who has had a rocky ride in NASCAR the last three years. Suarez took another hit midway through his qualifying race when he was sandwiched between a pair of Ford drivers headed to pit road.
Suarez was caught in the middle and hit by Ryan Blaney, sending Suarez’s Toyota sliding through Daytona’s infield grass. The only Mexican full-time driver in any NASCAR national series, Suarez has lost his job with top Cup teams the last two years and the former Xfinity Series champion only signed a deal late last month to drive this season with fledgling Gaunt Brothers Racing.
The team had to race its way into the Daytona 500, but Suarez’s shot ended with the crash.
“All I want to do is go home. I don’t know, man, getting tired of this,” Suarez said. “A lot of frustration. I’m brokenhearted. I’ve been working my ass off trying to make this happen.”
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