Antelope Valley Press

Jimmie Johnson uses desperate late push to qualify for his 21st Daytona 500


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson raced his way into the Daytona 500 with a three-wide move through the final turn in the first qualifying race Thursday night.

Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing won the 150-mile race that is part of how the field is set Sunday for the season-opening “Great American Race.”

Johnson, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and seven-time NASCAR champion who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, put the 500 on what he expects to be a nine-race schedule this season. He’s co-owner of Legacy Motor Club and, in his second season, switched the team from Chevrolet to Toyota.

But the Toyota’s lacked speed Wednesday night in time trials and Johnson failed to earn a guaranteed spot in what will be his 21st Daytona 500. It meant that he had to beat J.J. Yeley in the first of two qualifying races Thursday night at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway.

“I’ve never been in a position like this before, and I have such a greater appreciati­on for everyone before me that’s tried to race their way in,” Johnson said. “It’s very stressful. Very thankful that we got this Carvana Toyota in the race. I knew the first half of the race was going too easy. I knew there would be a challenge thrown at us. We got in just in time.”

A spin with 11 laps remaining put Johnson in precarious position and brought out a caution. It set up a restart with six laps remaining with Yeley in 14th and Johnson in 18th. Johnson was desperatel­y begging for a partner to line up behind the No. 84 Toyota and help push him past Yeley, but the help didn’t come until the closing seconds.

Martin Truex Jr., a fellow Toyota driver, dropped back to give Johnson some aid. Ross Chastain than checked up in traffic and Yeley dipped into an outside line to try to get around Chastain.

With the push from Truex, Johnson slid into the center lane behind Chastain and the trio sailed past Yeley to the finish line.

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