DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - For the first time since 1972 there will not be a Waltrip in the Daytona 500.
Unfortunately for Michael Waltrip he was one of the big losers in Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona qualifying races and failed to qualify for Sunday's "Great American Race."
Waltrip, who crashed in the day's first 150-mile race, wasn't alone in the disappointment department with the likes of Kenny and Mike Wallace, Bill Elliott, J.J. Yeley and Robert Richardson Jr. also missing out on gaining a spot in the biggest race of the season.
"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," said Waltrip, who after hitting pit road for fuel lost control of his Hillman Racing Toyotya while racing through turns one and two. "I feel like I let everybody down. I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. It’s just really hard. I don’t know what to say -- it’s just sad. Thankful to my team and Aaron’s for giving me the opportunity and hate that I let everybody down.”
Kenny Wallace was trying to drive the underfunded RAB Racing Toyota into Sunday's race and was the victim of a fuel pick-up problem that mired him deep in the field unable to challenge for the spot he needed to transfer to the 500.
"It's a tough pill to swallow for sure," said Wallace. "This team tried so hard and it just wasn't meant to be. But I'm so proud of the effort put forth to try and get into the Daytona 500 and that's what I'll take away from today's experience."
On the other side of the coin were the stories of drivers that survived Thursday with what they needed to move on to Sunday.
Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon transfered from the day's opening race and both drivers were thankful for the turn of events that led to their starts in the 500.
"It's amazing," said McDowell, who got a push from his friend and defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne to help secure the sixth place finish. "I've been here once before and made the race. I had to qualify in and I've been on the outside looking in too, so just know that this is extremely special not just for me and my family, but for our whole team. Phil Parsons Racing is a small team. We've got six guys back at the shop that worked really hard in the off-season to give us a fast car..."
Gordon had an early race scare when smoke started to billow from his Dodge but was able to nurse his car through that issue and notch the ninth place finish he needed to make the 500.
"It's big for us," said Gordon, who ran a partial schedule last season in his independent entry. "We were in a position last year, it sounds kind of crazy, we've won Indy Car races, I've won NASCAR races and we were in position we didn't have the funding to run all of the races so we found ourselves outside the Top 35.
"I'm proud of my guys. I'm proud of my team and I'm proud of the Daytona 500."
Two other David vs.Goliath stories played out in the day's second race when Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney punched their tickets to the 500.
For the journeyman Nemechek, a former Nationwide Series champion who made every Sprint Cup race last year with his small operation, making Daytona was a key to his entire 2012 effort.
"We're not sure what we can do this year," Nemechek said. "But now just getting into this race is such a huge shot in the arm for this team and will go a long way in helping us this year to say the least. This is so hard but we just keep plugging away and this was a great day for this race.
Blaney, who saw his guaranteed Daytona starting spot go to Danica Patrick when Tommy Baldwin Racing createda "collaborative partnership" with Stewart-Haas Racing, was forced to race his way into the big event with a twelfth place finish Thursday.
"Nah I don't feel any satisfaction or redemption," Blaney said. "Just happy to be able to start in the Daytona 500."