Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher win 150-mile qualifying races for Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski took Jack Roush to victory for the first time since 2017 as their rebranded team showed they were ready for the Daytona 500.

Keselowski and Chris Buescher won the 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night to put them side by side from the second row in NASCAR’s spectacular season-opening spectacle.

“We have good hot rods here,” Buescher said. “They are quick and they behave well. I knew we were in good shape the whole race.”

He won the race on the 60th and final lap of the second qualifying race for the Daytona 500 when leader Joey Logano was wrecked trying to block Buescher’s race. Logano, who was visibly angry after destroying his Penske Ford team, said he misjudged Buescher’s closing rate.

“The pilot messed up. That’s really all there is to it,” Logano said. “It’s my fault. It stinks because it tore our car apart and it kind of puts us in a position as a race team. It’s just a stupid mistake.”

On the other side of the circuit, Logano’s former Penske teammate was making his second trip to victory lane of the night.

Keselowski celebrated a huge first night of racing at Daytona as team owner and driver. He left Penske in November for a stake in Roush’s organization – now called RFK Racing for Roush Fenway Keselowski – and is now the driver of Roush’s flagship and the original No. 6 Ford.

He has a long-term vision for RFK and it’s not a silver bullet to bring the team back to the NASCAR elite. And yet Keselowski won the first qualifying race and obviously has a fast car for the Daytona 500.

Keselowski said the night was key to creating a culture that expects to win at RFK, which last won a Cup race in 2017 with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at this track.

“There are a lot of guys and girls in my team who have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race for five? Six years now? It’s any type of race “, said Keselowski. “It’s really important to develop that habit of winning, and the only way to do that is to win. It builds mutual trust and creates expectations.”

Keselowski and Buescher will start Sunday behind NASCAR champion Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman. The Chevrolet drivers locked down the front row in Wednesday night’s time trial.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. will make his NASCAR debut on Sunday when The Money Team Racing kicks off the Daytona 500. Kaz Grala led the No. 50 Chevrolet into the race with a pass from JJ Yeley on the final lap of race one.

Six teams came to Daytona to fight for four “open” spots in Sunday’s 40-car field. Two places were taken in the time trials – former Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve will make his Daytona 500 debut, as will Noah Gragson for Beard Motorsports – and one place was available in each of the two qualifying races.

Grala won one of them with a pass for 18th on the final lap of race one. NY Racing, a team owned by black entrepreneur John Cohen, smashed its way into the Daytona 500 in the second race. The team brought Greg Biffle out of semi-retirement and at 52, Biffle will be the oldest driver in the field on Sunday when he makes his 15th career Daytona 500 start.

Grala said “the word on the street” was that his boss Mayweather would be at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, but the team faced the retired boxer from the starting grid.

“He was so excited about it. He was ready, fired up and really confident in us,” Grala said. “It was a cool pep talk to get, not one I’ve ever had before. Definitely a cool moment for us and to have this confirmation that he’s excited about this program.”

The 500 has been sold out for about a month with an expected Sunday crowd of more than 120,000 who Grala said would court Mayweather. The Money team is only planning a partial schedule this season.

“He’s really going to get obsessed with it,” Grala said.

Roush had only qualified for Daytona once before, in 2012 when Matt Kenseth won both the short course and then the 500.

But their Fords are part of a group of clearly superior Mustangs that made their racing plans and worked together. Keselowski led Ford to a top-four sweep in race one; Buescher gave Ford a podium sweep with his win, and Logano had done four Fords up front before his crash.

Larson led a race record 34 laps from pole but finished seventh. He will lead the field to the green on Sunday in the debut of NASCAR’s new Next Gen car.

Thursday night’s race was extremely conservative until Logano’s last lap block – due to the slow rollout of the Next Gen, the car missed its original one-year deadline due to the pandemic – teams don’t just don’t have enough racing cars.

Everything is bought now and teams don’t build their own stuff anymore. With cars so hard to come by early in the season, few have backup cars at Daytona. This meant everyone had to race safely to keep their car for the 500.

“It stinks because it tore our car apart and kind of puts us in a position as a race team,” Logano said.

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