Alfredo & Ragan Earn Daytona 500 Spots On Speed

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Though the biggest of celebrations Wednesday night was reserved for Daytona 500 polesitter Joey Logano, two other NASCAR Cup Series drivers were able to breathe a sigh of relief following Busch Light Pole Qualifying at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Beard Motorsports’ Anthony Alfredo and RFK Racing’s David Ragan locked into the 66th running of the Great American Race by virtue of their qualifying speeds at the World Center of Racing.

As the two fastest non-chartered entries in single-car time trials for the Daytona 500, Alfredo and Ragan are guaranteed starting spots in Sunday’s 40-car field no matter what happens Thursday night during the Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races.

Alfredo’s lap of 50.098 seconds (179.648 mph) in the No. 62 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was best among the six open drivers hoping to secure starting spots for this year’s Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Ragan’s No. 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse toured the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 50.200 seconds (179.283 mph), outpacing seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson by .123 seconds to secure his place in the Great American Race.

For Alfredo, it marks his second Daytona 500 start and first with the family-owned Beard Motorsports operation, while Ragan is set for his 17th appearance in the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing and first behind the wheel of a Jack Roush-owned Ford since 2011.

Both drivers were equal parts exuberant and satisfied, knowing that the worst part of their Daytona Speedweeks is over, and they can focus on Sunday’s Daytona 500 from this point forward.

“It’s always big to be in the Daytona 500,” tipped Ragan on pit road moments after Johnson’s slower lap meant that he was guaranteed into the starting lineup. “The whole week, I’ve just been trying to make sure that we didn’t make any mistakes. I actually felt like we were going to have a shot at a top-10 or top-12 starting spot, but regardless, this shows all the hard work that this Ford team has done in preparing for this week.”

“This is insane!” a tearful Alfredo admitted as Kaz Grala’s stricken Ford limped to pit lane, the aborted run locking the Connecticut native into Sunday’s Speedweeks finale. “We were just talking about every possible scenario that we might find ourselves in … today, tomorrow, and obviously Sunday … but just making it to Sunday is a challenge because there’s such a competitive field of open cars for this race. I’m just thankful to the Beard family and Death Wish Coffee for giving me this opportunity. Unbelievable.”

Ragan also gave a nod to crew chief Derrick Finley, who is guiding his effort this week in Daytona and will lead the #Stage60 project out of the RFK Racing stable for the Cup Series races it runs this season.

“Derrick puts a lot of effort into the race team at RFK, and I’ve worked with him in the past … but he was nervous as a cat all afternoon,” Ragan said. “I’m proud for him and proud for everyone involved with this effort. Thanks to Brad Keselowski and Jack Roush for giving me an opportunity to come back down here and try to win a Daytona 500.”

Even as Alfredo soaked in the moment, the driver inside him was already looking ahead toward Sunday’s 500-mile race, where he hopes to contend for an upset Cup Series victory.

“We clearly have a fast Death Wish Coffee Chevrolet Camaro; we beat a lot of big teams and a lot of competitive drivers tonight,” noted Alfredo, who was 20th-quickest overall in the first round of qualifying. “To know that we’re in and don’t have to race our ways in through the Duel, where we can remove ourselves from some of the sketchiness and focus on Sunday is an amazing, amazing feeling.”

Johnson, driver-owner B.J. McLeod, J.J. Yeley, and Grala – who suffered a mechanical failure and was the only driver who failed to post a timed lap in qualifying Wednesday – will all hope to race their way into the Daytona 500 Thursday night during the pair of 150-mile Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona.

Should either Alfredo or Ragan race their way into the Daytona 500 through their respective Duel qualifying races, Johnson could then fall back on his qualifying speed to make the race.

If both Alfredo and Ragan lock in as the best-finishing open cars in the Duels, then Johnson (35th) and McLeod (40th) would be able to use their qualifying times to make the race Sunday.

Both Yeley and Grala’s only pathway into the Great American Race is by racing in Thursday night.

The first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway is set for a 7 p.m. ET green flag Thursday night, with race coverage live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.