McDowell, Richardson Make The '500'

NASCAR

McDowell earned a spot with his finish in the night’s opening 150-mile race. (Photo: Getty Images)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael McDowell and Robert Richardson Jr. grabbed spots in the Daytona 500 in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel qualifying races.

McDowell earned a spot with his finish in the night’s opening 150-mile race to cap what has been a tumultuous few weeks.

McDowell didn’t know what lied ahead in 2016 until his Leavine Family Racing team merged with Circle Sport Racing and was able to put together a program allowing the team to run at least the majority of the season.

“Yeah, there was a lot going on in the off -eason,” McDowell said after securing a berth in the 500 with his finish in Thursday night’s first Can-Am Duel qualifying race. “Obviously there was a lot of unknowns with the charter, what was going to happen with that. There was a time where we felt like we were going to be in a tough spot, you know, that we weren't sure if we were going to be able to compete this year at all, whether an open car or charter car.

“Luckily we were able to put together the partnership with RCR, that alliance. Switching over to Chevy helped strengthen our position there. With Thrivent Financial and KLOVE and all our partners coming onboard, all our sponsors coming onboard, really partnering with Joe Falk at Circle Sport, allowed us to say…”

Now that he knows he’ll be in “The Great American Race,” McDowell can have a less stressful remainder of Speedweeks.

“I don't know how many starts I've done, but I've had to make every single one but 10 of them in my career over 200 starts,” he explained.

“To not have to do that on Friday is going to be really nice. I'm looking forward to that.”

Richardson doesn’t have a ride for the season and his Daytona entry with BK Racing came together in recent days.

Making the season’s biggest race is the ultimate Cinderella story for the Texas driver.

“Two weeks ago I was at home working on my ranch, got a phone call from Lane Segerstrom from StalkIt, saying he was trying to put a deal together trying to run the Daytona 500,” said Richardson. “This was two weeks ago. A lot of guys start preparing for this race as soon as the season ends from last year.

“I'm very, very honored to be a part of BK Racing, having another opportunity to run here at the Daytona 500. I've been in it once before, but this one is very, very special to me. My wife and I welcomed our brand new baby boy who was born in early December. Every bit of earnings we get from this race is going to go into a college fund for him.”

Like McDowell, Richardson’s performance Thursday relieved a tremendous amount of stress for the rest of the week.

“The stress that I've been putting just on myself in general to make this race,” he said. “I've been pacing the floor ever since I woke up this morning just eager to get this race underway, just eager to see how the outcome would happen.

“I'm still in awe that this happened.”

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