Michael Waltrip will start 11th in the second Budweiser Duel race on Thursday. His #55 Aaron's Dream Machine ranked 22nd in qualifying today at Daytona International Speedway. His 6th fastest speed in the first round of qualifying moved him onto the next, but a clutch problem prevented him from advancing to the third. Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer, whose #15 5-Hour Energy Camry wrecked in the first round, will start 21st in the first Duel.
Leading up to today, forty-nine teams prepared extensively for a new qualifying system. Under the new system, two groups run five minutes each in Rounds 1A and 1B. The fastest twenty-four drivers advance to Round 2. Then, the fastest twelve of that group move onto Round 3. The top two at the end win the front row for the Daytona 500.
"We got all the Toyota drivers together to talk about our plan for qualifying," Mikey said prior to the first round. "And we determined we're going to try to stick together and draft up on other cars. That plan could go out the window in a hurry though. You know, it's only five minutes. If you wait around too long, you won't be able to get up the track to get a couple of good laps. There are a lot of nervous people in the Toyota camp about how all this is going to play out."
Mikey was not able to work with Clint in the first round. His driver drew a 21st starting position, and Mikey drew 28th. He ran Round 1B; Clint was in Round 1A.
Drivers in Round 1A took to the track just after 1:30pm ET. Due to an accordian effect just after the green flag, Clint's #15 got into the rear of Reed Sorenson's #44 and caused significant rear fender damage. Three and a half minutes into qualifying, the #15 car wrecked. Clint was working on passing Sorenson's slow #44. Initially, Sorenson was blocking him. Clint got a run alsong the inside and was turned. JJ Yeley's #23, Bobby Labonte's #32, and Denny Hamlin's #11 were also collected.
"Do not do anything stupid to other drivers, please," Clint's crew chief Brian Patty told him over the team's frequency. "Just stay in the car. Do not get out. Please. Just stay in the car. Please."
Clint did not listen to his crew chief. He got out of his #15, went to the window of the #44, and had words with Sorenson.
When interviewed after the wreck, Clint told FOX, "First of all, I wasn't behind the 44. He come flying around, come up on the apron, jumps in front of me, then run over the 51, stacks us all up, then I run into him. It's just, it's idiotic to be out here doing this anywhere. There's no sense in being able to try to put on some kind of cute show or whatever the hell. Then you got a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. I mean it's just... there's, there's no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their ass on these cars, to have some guy in desperation do this crap. It isn't his fault. It's not. It's NASCAR's fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing. There's absolutely... we used to come down here and worry about who's going to sit on the front row and the pole for the biggest race of the year. Now, all's we do is come down here and worry about how a start-and-park like this out of desperation is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500. We've been in meetings for forty-five minutes just trying to figure out what in the hell everybody's going to do just so we can make the race. It's stupid. There's no sense in doing this.
Round 1A ended with a minute and twenty-two seconds left in the session. Clint ranked 20th of 24. FOX noted that nobody ran top speeds, because cars didn't get in two solid laps with the wreck.
Just after 2pm, Mikey and other drivers in Round 1b lined up on pit road. Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr beat Hamlin's top speed just after one lap. Mikey ranked 18th of both groups. After lap 2, #55 was up to 12th. Lap 3 saw him advance to 6th. Mikey received drafting help throughout qualifying from Kyle Busch.
Mikey moved onto the second round of qualifying. Clint did not.
Cars took to the track again for the second round of qualifying at 2:22pm ET... all cars, that is, except for the #55. Mikey experienced clutch problems. His first lap was slow as a result. He caught the field as they came around, and he picked up the draft. He was still last, which is where he finished. He did not advance to Round 3.
The top twelve cars prepared for Round 3 as Mikey went to the commentators' booth. He talked about the new qualifying format.
"It's just, it might be frustrating for the drivers, but I'm going to tell you what. The show is amazing. To be out there in the middle of all that and feel the draft, I had a great run. My spotter Brett Griffin told me to move up; Kyle was coming. That was the right call. It pushed us to the start / finish line, and we got a really good time for our car. A lot of things can go wrong when you qualify like this, as we saw in that first session with Clint Bowyer, but for the fans, I think a lot of things go right, because it's fun to watch. And it's crazy to be a part of."
The #55 was 22nd quickest, earning an 11th place starting position in Thursday's Duel races.
Round 3 started at 2:40pm. Cars hesitated to leave pit road, but they took to the track when Martin Truex Jr did. He was last of the twelve at the end of the round. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson won the front row for the Daytona 500.
Coverage of the Budweiser Duels begins at 5:00pm ET on Fox Sports 1.