By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The task is very simple for the four non-chartered drivers of Joey Gase, Brendan Gaughan, Parker Kligerman and Ryan Truex, be the best finisher of their respective Gander RV Duel Thursday.
The match-up in Race No. 1 is between close racing friends Kligerman and Truex, who have created buzz on Twitter with their interaction about what’s at stake as only one of them will make their first Daytona 500. Neither drive has made an attempt of making the race since 2014, when both were rookies in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
When asked about Truex, he described that their rocky friendship has calmed down, but they knew right away last Sunday what’s at stake as neither were fast enough to lock their way into the race by speed like Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears successfully did.
“Ryan is probably my best friend that’s a driver. Before qualifying was even over, I texted him when I realized had happened and I was like:
‘So this is awkward.’ He just texted back, ‘We’re racing each other aren’t we?’ I was like, ‘Yep. It’s coming down to us two making this 500.’
“Our friendship is definitely on the rocks since then. It was kind of a fun thing on Twitter and Instagram, poking at each other. Then it got a little serious for a second, but it’s now back to fun.”
Outside of just racing Truex for one of two remaining spots, Kligerman added that there’s no true game plan on how to approach his Duel race.
“You have to go like hell and two, you can’t plan because it’s a superspeedway sort of race,” Kligerman explained. “As much as you have the best laid plans, none of that is going to come into fruition when you have 20 other cars that they’re going to make their own decisions. I just have to do what I know best, which is go race at a superspeedway and trying to figure out the package and figure out this type of drafting as quick as I can, and then make the right moves at the end.
“The nice thing is that I know who I have to beat. It’s not going to be some sort of calcuation of the race. I know if I finish ahead of the No. 71 car (Truex) and the No. 31 car (Reddick), I’m in the Daytona 500. That’s what I got to do and that’s what myself and Gaunt Bros. Racing intends to do.”
Although not in Race No. 1, Ryan’s brother, Martin Truex, Jr., hopes he makes his first 500 after failing to make the 2014 lineup, which was his only attempt at the “Great American Race.”
“I’m excited for him to have the opportunity,” said Martin. “It’s definitely difficult race to make. Obviously, with the Duels and the draft it’s tough, so hopefully it goes well.”
Ryan will be driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, who are making their first Cup start since 2017, and have experienced the highest of highs when making the Duels like they did in their early days with Scott Riggs and Mike Bliss. If Truex makes the field, it’ll be his first 500 start and could join the brother duo of Busch (Kurt and Kyle) and Dillon (Austin and Ty) on Sunday.
The storyline for Race No. 2 is rather fascinating, as it’ll come down to two part-time entries, but polar opposites from a financial standpoint. Most notably, how the odds stack against MBM Motorsports’ Joey Gase, who has to beat Gaughan, who’s made the last two Daytona 500s. Gase was the slowest out of the 42 cars that qualified while Gaughan was 31st quickest.
Adding more weight to the difficulty of making the race, Gase said he needed more track time as the Duels will be the first time they hit the track since qualifying. However, he believes that if he can stay in the draft, it’ll help his odds.
“Our car didn’t have the speed that we were hoping for in qualifying,” said Gase. “We really needed more practice time, so hopefully once the Duel starts, we can keep up with the draft. If we can do that, it’s anyone’s race, so it’ll be entertaining for sure.”
Since cars are impounded, it makes car adjustments agonizing after the back of his No. 66 Toyota dragged a lot during qualifying, but if he makes the field, it will help the Carl Long owned-team, who are one of a few Toyota teams and aren’t aided by a top-tier Cup team.
“To make it, it would be a dream come true for myself and everyone else on the team,” said Gase. “Not only that, it would really help our team financially for the rest of the year too. It’s the highest paying race that we’re racing all year and there’s a lot zeroes in that paycheck if we make it.
“We really want to make it for our sponsors too, especially all those guys that came onboard the last minute for us. If we can do that for them, it would be a really good day.”
As for Gaughan, it’s simply having fun, which his Beard Motorsports No. 62 Chevrolet squad has been since making their debut in 2017 and have yet to miss a race.
“We made a mistake on Sunday and that hurt us, so it’s the first race in two years with the Beard folks that we weren’t the fastest of the open cars, and it’s okay,” Gaughan on his qualifying effort. “We’ve been good enough for so many years now that we’re trying to be even better, and we stepped on an egg and cracked it a little bit and it’s alright.
“We feel good for the Duel. We know we have a good Chevrolet and a good motor. I’m not going to say that I’ve already called Austin or Ty Dillon to make sure they can babysit the old man here. If anything goes weird, I got some friends on the field and we know what our jobs is, and we’ll stay focus on that.
“We’re in a race within a race. We don’t need to go out and win the Duel. We don’t need to go out and set the world on fire and show everybody we’re here. We just need to go out there and make sure that we’re in the show for the Daytona 500, and that’s our goal and our job.”
Since his days at Roger Penske in 2004, Gaughan described that working with the Beard family has been the most fun he’s had in his NASCAR career because of the uniqueness on how they run their operation that’s been lost.
“This is just a unique opportunity that doesn’t happen in NASCAR anymore,” said Gaughan. “The way this team is, with the owner that we have, it hasn’t happened in decades and it’s so fun to be a part of it.
“It’s been fun to say hi to all of my buddies and have to remind them that I got an ECR motor and a good Chevrolet that has a little bit of help from us and remind them that we’re going to be there. The last two years, we’ve been at the end of most of the races with something to contend with, but I’m having honestly a great time again.
“I told Mark Beard last year that I’ve driven for some great owners. Roger is still in my eyes a god, and I’m having more fun driving for him than I did at Penske. He looked at me kind of crazy, and I said, ‘Hey, I love Mr. Penske, but I’m having more fun now than I probably I’ve had since I owned my own team.”
Only two of those drivers will make the 61st Daytona 500, which will be their high point of Speedweeks, but unlike last year, there will be cars going home, and for the two that fail to qualify, it’ll be heartbreaking not just for the driver, but the race team, who have to leave the 2.5-mile circuit empty handed and have to wait another time to make the field.