Jimmie Johnson Must Race His Way Into Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The last time a past NASCAR Cup Series champion did not qualify for a race was Terry Labonte nearly 15 years ago.

Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion of the sport, is in threat of renewing that statistic.

“I’ve never been in this position, so I don’t know [how to approach the Duels],” said a surprised Johnson after his qualifying attempt Wednesday night. “I came down here mentally prepared to race my way in if that was required. I’m well studied. I spent a lot of time working on the environment of the Duels and the way the race might unfold.

“We just have to get out there, race hard, and see how it unfolds.”

It’s the first time of his double decade career that Johnson will find his fate via his finish in Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacation Duel qualifying race at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

In his 2002 rookie season, Johnson was not locked into the main event until he set a pole running speed of 185.831 mph. Since the front row was guaranteed to be in Sunday’s show, there was no concerns going into Thursday’s Duels.

But there truly is a first for everything for everyone, no matter how robust one’s resume may be. Johnson’s 2024 qualifying time of 50.323 seconds (178.845 mph) was over a tenth of a second slower than David Ragan, who ranked second among the six non-chartered teams. Ragan’s time of 50.200 seconds (179.283 mph) was good enough to lock his spot into the 500, along with Anthony Alfredo (50.098 seconds at 179.648 map) who qualified 20th out of the 42 cars on the entry list.

Johnson’s task on Thursday night is straightforward. From the 18th starting position, he will simply have to beat J.J. Yeley to guarantee his spot in the Great American Race. While everyone else will battle for the win in hopes of a better starting position for Sunday, Johnson and Yeley will be a race within the race for fans to watch.

That task is simple on paper but will be difficult to execute.

“[I’m] much more nervous now,” he admitted. “I thought we were going to be in a little bit better position than this, but it is what it is. We will go to work.”

Johnson’s nervousness and surprise were evenly matched. All nine Toyota drivers qualified outside of the top-20, topped by Johnson’s Legacy Motor Club teammate Erik Jones. His time of 50.101 seconds (179.637 mph) slotted him into the 22nd position.

“I had higher expectations for sure, but we are lumped right there with the other Toyotas,” noted Johnson. “The 43 car (of Jones) got a little more out of it, so I wish we had [gotten] a bit more out of ours, but it is what it is. We will go out and race hard tomorrow night and try to make the 500.”

The California native will have to fight for his 690th career Cup Series start in the No. 84 Carvana Toyota Camry XSE. The first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona Int’l Speedway is slated for a 7 p.m. ET green flag, with race coverage live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *