Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images via NASCAR

Logano, McDowell Lock Out Daytona 500 Front Row for Ford, New Mustang Dark Horse

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Ford has struck the first blow of Speedweeks.

Despite rolling into Daytona with the unknown of its new Mustang Dark Horse body for 2024, the Blue Oval brigade will have the best seat in the house to start Sunday’s 66th running of the Daytona 500 after Joey Logano and Michael McDowell locked out the front row in pole qualifying on Wednesday night.

Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion and two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, powered his No. 22 Team Penske Ford around the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 49.465 seconds, 181.947 mph to capture his first pole in the Great American Race and break Chevrolet’s more than decade long streak of Daytona 500 poles.

“Anytime you walk into this area we’re standing here in Victory Lane, I don’t care if it’s qualifying or the Duel or the 500 it’s always special,” said Logano. “This is about the team. The driver doesn’t really do a whole bunch in qualifying here. I can’t take much credit today, so these guys did a tremendous job giving me a really fast Mustang.

“A couple Fords on the front row is something pretty special seeing those Mustangs up front here. It’s a pretty exciting start to Speedweek and hopefully tomorrow night we have a good one and we’ll be in the same spot.”

In addition to it being Logano’s first Daytona 500 pole, it is also the first time Team Penske has won a pole in the season opener in Florida – continuing the streak Roger Penske is on at Daytona after also winning the Rolex 24 two weeks prior.

“It’s obviously something really special,” Logano added. “There is more pride taken as a team for winning the Daytona 500 pole than any other pole in the season because of the amount of effort that goes in all winter long working on this race car. It’s nice to see that there’s a lot of speed there and it’s a pretty special moment for everyone at Team Penske and everybody back at the shop, Roush Yates building our engines. This is a real big team moment.”

McDowell, who won the 2021 Daytona 500, looked to be in the catbird seat for the pole until Logano’s run, but noted that he’s just as happy that he and his team will be starting from the front row on Sunday.

“The feeling is awesome,” said McDowell. This is the best that we have ever qualified down here. We’ve always had fast Ford Mustangs, but we really put an emphasis on seeing how much speed we could get out of it. We know that we can work on it Thursday and Friday and all those things. 

“A pole is something that is on the bucket list this year to try and get done. I don’t have a Cup Series pole, so I thought we had a good shot at that one. Obviously, Joey got us there, but two Dark Horse Mustangs on the front row for the Daytona 500 is awesome.”

Along with Logano and McDowell locking themselves in, the top two open cars in David Ragan and Anthony Alfredo also put up a fast enough time to cement their place in the 40-car field for Sunday.

Ragan makes his return to the Cup Series in the No. 60 Ford, a third entry for RFK Racing, as he looks to contend for his first Daytona 500 win on Sunday.

“It’s always big to be in the Daytona 500 and the whole week I’ve just been trying to make sure we didn’t make any mistakes,” said Ragan. “I really felt like we were going to have a shot at a top 10 or top 12 starting spot, but it just shows all of the hard work this Ford team has done.

“Derrick Finley, he puts a lot of effort into the race team at RFK. I’ve worked with him in the past and he’s been nervous as a cat all afternoon and so I’m really proud for Derrick and proud for all of the RFK guys, and appreciate Brad Keselowski and Jack Roush giving me an opportunity to come down here to try to win a Daytona 500.”

Alredo, driving the No. 62 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports, was ecstatic on pit road when it became clear that his lap was fast enough to lock him in for the Daytona 500 – erasing the stress of having to race in through the Duels on Thursday as he and the team can just focus on Sunday’s main event.

“This is insane,” Alfredo said. “We had just talked about any possible scenario we might find ourselves in today, tomorrow and obviously Sunday. But to make it to Sunday is such a challenge with such a competitive field of open cars and drivers behind the wheel, and I am just really thankful for the Beard family to give me this opportunity and for Death Wish Coffee coming on board. We clearly have a fast No. 62 Death Wish Coffee Chevrolet Camaro.

“To know we are in and to not have to race in tomorrow; to remove ourselves from some of the sketchy circumstances and focus on Sunday is just an amazing feeling.”

On the other side of the coin, there are four drivers whose fate for starting the Daytona 500 is still up in the air and won’t be decided until Thursday night’s Duel qualifying races.

Two of them will punch their ticket into the Daytona 500 grid, while the other two will be headed home.

Among those four is seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, driving the No. 84 Toyota for the Legacy Motor Club team that he co-owns. Johnson’s qualifying time on Wednesday night was only good enough to be 35th fastest, meaning he and the team will have to deal with the nerves of having to race their way in on Thursday night.

Johnson will join fellow Open driver J.J. Yeley in the first Duel race.

“I’ve never been in this position, so I don’t know. I came down here mentally prepared to race my way in if that was required,” Johnson said of his approach for Thursday night. “I’m well studied. I spent a lot of time working on the environment of the Duels and the way the race will unfold. Just get out there and race hard and see how it unfolds.

“Much more nervous now. I thought we were going to be in a little bit better position than this, but it is what it is. We will go to work.”

The other two Open drivers that will have to race their way in through the second Duel are B.J. McLeod and Kaz Grala.

Grala didn’t even have a chance to put up a qualifying time on Wednesday after a mechanical failure left his Ford limping around the speedway during his run.

The 150-mile Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races are scheduled for 7:00 pm ET on FOX Sports 1.

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.