Speed, Waltrip Make Daytona 500

Scott Speed

Speed will start the Daytona 500 for the Leavine Family Racing team after his 15th-place finish. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Scott Speed and Michael Waltrip were the big winners in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel races by securing spots in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The pair finished well enough in the day’s opening 150-mile qualifying race to punch their tickets into Sunday’s main event.  Waltrip, who is driving the Swan Racing entry that David Stremme will pilot for the rest of the season, finished 14th and will now shoot for a third career Daytona 500 win.

“It's always something,” Waltrip said of the pressure to race his way into the "500" lineup.  “It means a lot to us to put this car in.  Two cars are going to miss it.  If I get wrecked in that crash, I could have been one of those two.”

The start in the "500" is a big shot in the arm for the team that was formerly known as Inception Motorsports until it was bought by new owner Brandon Davis and turned into Swan Racing.  Veteran crew chief Tony Eury Jr. helped guide the No. 26 car to the finish on Thursday and Waltrip is looking forward to running the week’s main event.

“Tony Jr. is so much fun to work with,” he said.  “Brandon Davis and those folks at Swan Racing, I think it's a great story.  They said, ‘We're going to come in and race, and figure this out.’  David Stremme has been to every auction, shop, bought parts from Roush, from us, all over, just putting this team together.”

The Swan Racing entry will also carry a special paint scheme to honor and assist the victims and community of Newtown, Conn., following the school shooting in December.  Waltrip hopes the awareness in NASCAR’s biggest race will help that effort.

“It's an honor to be able to race this car,” he said.  “We went to Newtown a couple weeks ago and met with the town.  Couldn't wait to give them something to smile about.  It's been a tough couple of months.  Obviously, all the fans are texting Newtown, 80888.' "  Rebuilding the town, whatever they need that money for, we're glad we can help out.

“Secondly, we know we're going to give them something to cheer about in the '500.'  There's so many race fans in the northeast, it's an honor to race it.”

Speed will start the Daytona 500 for the Leavine Family Racing team after his 15th-place finish.  Like Waltrip, Speed is excited about what racing in the "500" will mean to the small organization.

“It’s huge,” Speed said.  “There’s been a lot of hard work trying to get this program together and for us to come down here and get into the biggest race of the year is really special."

Two drivers failed to make the Daytona 500 and saw their dreams end on Thursday.  Brian Keselowski, who was a Cinderella story two years ago, and Mike Bliss both missed “The Great American Race.”

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