Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Haley and Gaughan Qualify for Daytona 500

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The youngest and the oldest driver on the grid have made “The Great American Race.”

Both Justin Haley (age 20) and Brendan Gaughan (age 44) were not only the first two cars out to qualify, but they were fastest among the open cars during Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying and to each story is their own.

For Haley, he was 31st fastest at 190.018 mph and the most recent NASCAR Cup Series winner at Daytona. Not only that, Haley making the field will mark Kaulig Racing’s first-ever start in the premiere series, so there was some expectations going into Speedweeks as to how his No. 16 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet will fare.

“It was crucial for us being Kaulig’s first Cup start at Daytona. Not only locking into the Daytona 500 but being the fastest open car,” Haley after qualifying into the race. “That definitely shows the statement of the No. 16 team. Billy Scott did an excellent job setting the car up. We did a lot of single-car runs yesterday, trying to get it dialed in. Let’s see what the Duels bring us and try to get another win at Daytona.”

Despite running for the Xfinity Series championship, which makes him ineligible to score Cup points, Haley is one of several notable drivers that’ll be running their first Daytona 500 which also includes the highly touted Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“It’s awesome to come out here. A lot of the guys I’ve raced in the Xfinity or Truck Series with. We definitely come up all together. It sucks that I’m not running for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series, but we’re really focused on the Xfinity Series still with Kaulig Racing and loving that opportunity.

“I’m just going to take that this week and then move to next week, and race that race in the Daytona 500. So it all comes in steps and backwards and steps, Cup car and Xfinity car and everything else. So we’ll see how it goes.”

As for Gaughan, who will be making his fifth and final Daytona 500, he was calm but kind of bummed about his qualifying run because he was faster than Haley during yesterday’s practice sessions.

“We lost three tenths compared to (Haley), who we were faster. We don’t know why we lost so much speed,” Gaughan during the media bullpen. “In the end, the Chevrolet we have is fantastic. Darren Shaw is my one-man arm and he takes such good care of that.

“It’s his baby man. He’s one employee with two race cars. He works his tail off. Richard (Childress) and the guys did a lot of body work to that Chevrolet, so that helps and the ECR motor. If we can still skate through and be locked in, I’m going to have a much better dive these next two days and be relaxed.”

Minutes later, Daniel Suarez hit the 2.5-mile circuit and with Bob Pockrass’ Fan Vision in his hand, Gaughan saw the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota Camry qualify, hoping his time was slower.

As soon as Suarez hit 16th on the scoreboard out of 26 up to that point, it’s diving time for the man who not only isn’t “Gaughan Yet,” he won’t have to race his way in the race during Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel like last year.

“We’ve made it. We’re here and I’m going to have a bitchin’ time,” an ecstatic Gaughan said.

A confident Gaughan, who ended up 33rd fastest at 188.945 mph, said before being locked in that his No. 62 Beard Motorsports/South Point Chevrolet is faster and better than his car last October at Talladega when a strong afternoon ended in a wild ride.

“This car is an amazing race car. Everything’s better than what I had at Talladega. So I’m extremely confident with the race car,” Gaughan said. “My old heart man, I’m the oldest guy in the field. That heart, I can’t take those things anymore. I want an easy day.”

With two only being guaranteed a spot in qualifying, the other five will have to flight tooth and nail to get the last two spots for next Sunday’s 200-lap challenge, while three have to go home heartbroken.

Those five who’ll face the maximum amount of pressure are Reed Sorenson (who was the first man on the outside looking in), Timmy Hill, Suarez, J.J. Yeley and Joey Gase.

Thursday’s Duels will commence with live coverage beginning at 7:00 pm EST on FS1.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.