By Jacob Seelman, Special Contributor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Manufacturer allegiances were prevalent, as has been tradition in recent years, during Happy Hour for the 65th Daytona 500 on Saturday morning.
The ‘One Ford’ philosophy led the way atop the final speed charts before the Great American Race, with six Blue Oval drivers in the top six positions on the Daytona Int’l Speedway scoring pylon.
The Harley J. Earl Trophy is the biggest prize that has eluded Keselowski during his Cup Series career, but the Michigan native believes his manufacturer companions will be the key to capturing it at long last.
“I think you’ll see it,” said the Michigan native in regards to the ‘One Ford’ battle plan. “The Fords have done an excellent job of bringing a lot of depth to the race track, and I don’t think that’s rivaled by any other manufacturer in the field, with the quality of cars and drivers that they have.
“When the Fords get together, especially at a race like this, I feel like we can be pretty unstoppable,” he added. “It doesn’t mean you can’t lose the race; there are ways to lose it even with having the fastest cars, but having what we have as a group at least lets us be in a position to try and control the race.”
One of Keselowski’s companions, however, did not practice Saturday. His teammate Chris Buescher kept his race car in the garage, while Keselowski spent extra time trying to improve before race day.
“The best practice is not when you get it right, but it’s when you can’t get it wrong,” he noted. “Chris’ car was dialed in and in a great spot … where mine wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, so I was happy to put in the work today and, hopefully, that work will translate into good things on Sunday in the race.”
Team Penske teammates Joey Logano (47.072/191.196) and Ryan Blaney (47.076/191.180) were second- and third-quickest, respectively, followed by Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton and Chase Briscoe.
Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Haley landed seventh and eighth overall, the fastest two of only six Chevrolet entries that practiced in the 50-minute Saturday morning session.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric was 14th fastest and stayed out of the draft to preserve his car for Sunday’s season-opening race.
Friday practice leader Jimmie Johnson was 15th of the 16 cars that turned at least one lap in Happy Hour.
With practice complete, teams turn their focus to trying to win the Daytona 500, which Keselowski believes won’t come down to the driver who’s leading the race when the white flag waves.
“The winner of this race is usually decided by the moves that the third- and fourth-place drivers make [on the last lap],” Keselowski noted. “I guess, for me, I haven’t had the right car behind me in the closing stages to win this race in the past … but hopefully we can change that tomorrow.
“You can only drive one car at a time, but you hope to be fast enough to have friends when it counts.”
Sunday’s Daytona 500 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET, with live coverage on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.