Johnson, Grala Earn Final Transfer Spots for 2024 Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By tenths, Jimmie Johnson and Kaz Grala both fight for the final two qualifying positions in their respective Bluegreen Vacations Duels, and will race in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Johnson, starting 39th, will compete in his 21st Daytona 500 in his No. 84 Carvana Toyota Camry XSE with Legacy Motor Club’s third entry.

After qualifying 35th on Wednesday, Johnson had to race his way in by beating J.J. Yeley in the first Duel Thursday night. It was the first time in Johnson’s NASCAR career that he was not locked into the Daytona 500 post-qualifying.

The nerves compiled as the seven-time Cup champion was involved in a late-race caution with nine laps to go. His last lap pass on Yeley will make Sunday the first time Johnson will race in a Toyota in NASCAR.

“It was intense,” Johnson described the battle in the closing laps. “With probably three to go he threw a great block on me on the front stretch and it kind of perked me up and I realized just what kind of battle I was in for in the closing laps. Hats off to them for the hard effort they put into this. This is not easy, and it stinks that a car has got to go home.

“They put up a heck of a fight and we’re fortunate to get in.”

Heading into Turn 3 on the final lap, Johnson was still on the outside looking in as Yeley had the position ahead of Johnson in the outside lane. As the leaders scrambled for the win with Tyler Reddick taking the checkered flag, the outside lane jammed as Yeley made a move to the outside hoping to pass Ross Chastain. On the exit of Turn 4, Yeley was left out of the draft and Johnson snuck into the middle lane to get by Yeley before the finish line.

Johnson didn’t know what to expect a mile prior.

“The way things worked out, I found myself at the tail end of the two lines,” continued Johnson. “I just didn’t have anyone to push me and get going. And I just saw some things developing and there was some contact and JJ (Yeley) moved to the outside to avoid a crash. I don’t know how they didn’t crash, and I chose the lane where the crash was taking place. I just had to pick the opposite lane and Days of Thunder action. That lane recovered and recovered quicker to the start-finish, and I got there to the checkered flag.”

The second Duel was just as intense.

And just as in Johnson’s case, it all started on Wednesday as Grala was not able to mark a qualifying lap after a broken transmission.

For the third year in a row, Grala had to fight on Thursday night in his Duel.

“This week is just so crazy,” he shared. “It’s always so stressful coming here as an Open car and I’ve had terrible luck on Wednesdays. I haven’t been able to have a single relaxed Thursday yet, and today was certainly no exception. That was a pretty intense battle there coming down to the last couple of laps. It was way closer than I wanted it to be, but it was great racing with BJ and David Ragan. Everybody racing clean and pushing hard, so that was cool.

“I’m happy to get this No. 36 Ruedebusch Ford into the Daytona 500 because Front Row Motorsports worked so hard yesterday to get this car ready and in shape for today and they did a great job. We obviously had great speed, so I’m excited to see what we can do on Sunday.”

Grala had some fortune turn his way as BJ McLeod was involved in a 13-car wreck during Duel 2. At the time, that gave Grala the upper hand. The No. 78 team made repairs and gave McLeod the car he needed to make a final run for the transfer spot.

It was all smiles for both McLeod who fell short and Grala who will start in his third consecutive Great American Race.

“They’ve all been equally tied for the most stressful moments of my life,” reflected Grala on the past Daytona Speedweeks. “I have not had one smooth Duel yet all three times and yet I snuck in in all of them. That definitely took a couple of years off my life right there, but to make the Daytona 500 it’s always worth it.”

Grala will officially start in the final 40th position for the 66th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Coverage on Sunday begins on national television at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox, and international radio at 1:30 p.m. ET on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.

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