DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They did what they had to do.
Both will now compete Sunday in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX/FOX Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“This might be your last Daytona 500, and there’s no guarantee on when you’re going to get that next opportunity,” Sorenson said. “Just to get the opportunity was very exciting for me, and then now that we’re in, I can enjoy the moment and the weekend.”
The way it works, drivers from teams without a Charter are considered Open and are not automatically given a spot in the Daytona 500. That must be earned in single-car qualifying or the Duel races.
The two fastest Open drivers in single-car qualifying advance. The others then have to duke it out in the Duel races, where the best Open finisher in each gets a bid into the Daytona 500. If the best Open finishers are also the fastest qualifiers from Sunday, then it goes back to best qualifying speeds from Sunday to fill the final two spots.
Open drivers whose speed from qualifying punched their ticket into the Daytona 500 were Brendan Gaughan and Justin Haley.
While Hill just had to finish better than JJ Yeley and Gaughan in Duel 2, Sorenson needed to beat out Justin Haley, Chad Finchum and Daniel Suarez in Duel 1. Hill accomplished that feat to make the 500 field while Sorenson advanced based on Sunday’s speed because Haley was the top Open finisher in Duel 1.
Suarez. meanwhile, was actually leading the mini race when he collided with Ryan Blaney on Lap 30 of 60 to take his No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota out of contention. Finchum was then two laps down in 20th.
“My spotter was high-pitched to say the least,” Sorenson said. “I didn’t really have much emotion about it because I was still trying to concentrate on what we might or might not have to do to get in. But yeah, he started screaming at me. Nobody was around, so I didn’t know what he was screaming about, and it was because the 96 was in it.”
Yeley also wrecked himself out of the competition on Lap 42 of 60 of his race.
“I don’t know if the smile is going to come off my face,” Hill said. “Look, as a kid, everybody who is a race car driver has a dream of driving this stuff. You want to run the Daytona 500. My car is very capable of running competitively in this race. I feel like we’re not just here to participate, we’re here to race.”
This will mark Hill’s first Daytona 500 and Sorenson’s seventh start. Hill has been in the Cup Series for eight years, all part time. Sorenson is at 15 years but with five full-time seasons.
Neither has any victories to their name.
“You can win,” Sorenson said. “It can happen.”
Sorenson’s crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, led Haley to his first career victory in July at Daytona. Sospenzo has four wins atop the pit box overall.
Steve Idol, meanwhile, is Hill’s crew chief.
The 40-driver field for the Daytona 500 is now set.
“For us, people don’t really give us much of a shot,” Hill said. “To come into this race as an underdog nobody’s really counting on, it feels really great to prove a lot of people wrong.”