Keselowski leads Jack Roush back to Daytona’s victory lane

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski took Jack Roush to victory lane for the first time since 2017 and their rebranded race team showed it has a pair of Fords ready to race for a Daytona 500 victory.

Keselowski and Chris Buescher won their respective 150-mile qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday night to put them side-by-side starting from the second row Sunday in the sold-out spectacular.

“What a way to start Speedweeks,” Buescher said.

It was a huge night for Keselowski as part-owner of Roush’s organization. The team is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, and Keselowski drives its flagship No. 6 Ford.

He has a long-term vision for RFK and returning the team to one of NASCAR’s elite is not an overnight fix. But the win in the first of two 150-mile qualifying races means Keselowski has a fast Daytona 500 car.

Then Buescher won the second duel, a victory earned after Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap as he attempted to block a Buescher move for the win. Logano was clearly angry inside his crumpled car.

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Keselowski and Buescher will share the second row in Sunday’s season-opening race. NASCAR champion Kyle Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman locked down the front row in Wednesday night time trials.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. will make his NASCAR debut Sunday when The Money Team Racing starts the Daytona 500. Kaz Grala drove the No. 50 Chevrolet into the race with a pass of JJ Yeley on the 60th and final lap.

Six teams came to Daytona battling for four “open” spots in Sunday’s 40-car field. Two spots were filled in time trials — former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve will make his Daytona 500 debut, as will Noah Gragson for Beard Motorsports — and one spot was available in each of the two qualifying races.

Grala earned one of them with a pass for 18th on the final lap of the first race. NY Racing, a team owned by Black entrepreneur John Cohen. The team pulled Greg Biffle out of semi-retirement and at 52 years old, Biffle will be the oldest driver in the field Sunday when he makes his 15th career start in the Daytona 500.

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Grala said “the word on the street” was that his boss Mayweather would be at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, but the team face-timed with the retired boxer from the starting grid.

“He was so pumped up about it. He was ready, jacked up and really confident in us,” Grala said. “That was a cool pep talk to get, not one that I’ve ever gotten before. Definitely a cool moment for us and having that validation that he’s excited about this program.”

The 500 has been sold out for about a month with an expected crowd Sunday of more than 120,000 that Grala predicted would woo Mayweather. The Money Team plans just a partial schedule this season.

“He’s really going to get obsessed with this,” Grala said, “Just like we all are.”

It was the first win for a Roush car since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2017 at this track. Roush had won a Daytona qualifier only once before, in 2012 when Matt Kenseth won both the short race and then the 500. Keselowski, who won the 2012 championship for Roger Penske and has long been a cog in the Ford plans of attack at superspeedways, said the Blue Oval group will be strong on Sunday.

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“I’ve got to give credit to the other Fords,” Keselowski said. “We worked really well together.”

Keselowski worked with former Penske teammate Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric, his replacement in the No. 2 Ford, as well as Chase Briscoe or Stewart-Haas Racing.

“We had great strategy. We stuck together and drove away and got ourselves in position where we could control the finish of this race,” Keselowski said of leading Cindric, Blaney and Briscoe across the finish line, locking out Chase Elliott of Hendrick.

Larson led a race-high 34 laps from the pole, but finished seventh. He will lead the field to green Sunday in the debut of NASCAR’s new Next Gen car.

“There’s a lot of guys and gals on my team that have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race in five? Six years now? That’s any kind of race. It’s really important to get that winning habit built up , and the only way you can really do that is to go win.

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The racing Thursday night was extremely conservative until Logano’s last-lap block — because of the slow rollout of the Next Gen, the car missed its initial deadline by a year because of the pandemic — teams simply don’t have enough race cars.

Everything is purchased now and teams aren’t building their own stuff anymore. With cars so hard to come by at the start of the season, few have backup cars in Daytona. It meant everyone had to race fairly safe to save their car for the 500.

Logano said he simply misjudged how quickly Buescher closed on his bumper.

“I just made a mistake,” Logano. “It was a dumb move.”

Team Penske was evaluating whether it could fix Logano’s damaged Ford or if it needed a new No. 22. Because the race was still over two days away, teams have the time to determine how the Next Gen responds after a crash.

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