McLeod, Yeley Narrowly Miss 2024 Daytona 500 Starts

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The difference between making the field and missing the Daytona 500 came down to last lap battles for B.J. McLeod and J.J. Yeley in the Bluegreen Vacation Duel races.

Yeley was a late addition to the entry list, taking control of the NY Racing No. 44 100 Coconut Water Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, posting the fifth-best time of the open cars in qualifying. Starting shotgun on the field, the Phoenix, AZ native initially held serve with the field in the first Duel race. After green flag pit stops, Yeley lost the draft at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Duel 1 wide 2024 copy
Photo by Jerry Jorday/Kickin’ the Tires.

That was until a caution that swept up fellow open car Jimmie Johnson waved. Yeley restarted ahead of Johnson and Anthony Alfredo with under 10 laps to go. He blocked the NASCAR Hall of Famer on the restart. The duo traded the final transfer spot back and forth over the final laps.

“Obviously, it was exciting,” Yeley said. “I was worried when they dropped the green, we were going to have a hard time keeping up with the draft. Hendrick put this car together, had a lot of speed in the draft. We were just riding, taking my time. I had to be on the outside, inside. I killed my momentum.

“Then what happened with the 84 there, got a caution, got a break. The car just didn’t have good acceleration on restarts.”

Coming to the checkered flag, both Johnson and Yeley were side by side. When Ross Chastain lost momentum ahead of Yeley, it slowed his own pace. That small difference in speed was enough for Johnson to move ahead, trapping the NY Racing driver.

“Side by side coming to two, three to go, I thought we were in really good job,” Yeley admitted. “Going into turn three, I’m not counting my chickens, but I was getting close. Saw there was some contact. Someone in the middle lost a lot of momentum.

“I made a split-second decision to go to the outside, carry the momentum, clear him, make the racetrack two-wide where he couldn’t pass. He stayed in the middle. The 19 (Martin Truex Jr) pushed him. The momentum carried him all the way to the checkered flag. It sucks. Two years ago, we were close. Just couldn’t get it.”

McLeod, meanwhile, had put the fourth-best qualifying lap down in qualifying in his unsponsored No. 78 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He ran up front throughout the second Duel race. The driver-owner’s hopes of making ‘The Great American Race’ took a hit when he was swept up in ‘the big one’ with 12 laps to go.

Luckily for McLeod, he emerged with minor damage. It did allow Kaz Grala to catch back up to the field. Grala latched onto his Ford Performance teammates to move forward. That pulled him forward. McLeod, meanwhile, followed Bubba Wallace to surge back up to the Front Row Motorsports driver. The duo traded the transfer spot back and forth, much like Johnson and Yeley in the first Duel race.

In fact, all three of the open cars in the second duel race finished within a car length of one another. Grala narrowly beat McLeod to the line, knocking him out of the Daytona 500, with Ragan just behind the Chevrolet driver.

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Sunday, February 18, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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