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Swan Racing duo finds way into Daytona 500 field

February 20, 2014, Holly Cain,

Teammates among seven drivers making first 500 starts; Labontes make field, too

RELATED: Duel 1 results | Duel 2 results | Daytona 500 starting lineup

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Cole Whitt called his night "amazing" while his Swan Racing teammate Parker Kligerman used the expression "heart-wrenching," but all's well that ended well. They'll both make their first Daytona 500 on Sunday.

Whitt's 11th-place finish in the first Budweiser Duel 150 gave the 22-year-old immediate Daytona 500 gratification. But thanks to the one-of-a-kind qualifying format for NASCAR’s biggest race, Kligerman, 23, had to wait an excruciating hour to find out his fate after his No. 30 Lending Tree Toyota had an engine problem and lost power on the final lap leaving him outside the top-15 automatic transfer position into the Daytona 500.

His berth ultimately depended on how the second Duel played out with transfer spots, last year's points standings and champions' provisional setting the full 43-car field, which will include seven first-time Daytona 500 starters and three others with only a single 500 under the belt.

"I had a great qualifying weekend, a fast car and got it wrecked yesterday (in practice) and then having it all ripped apart and taken away on that last lap tonight is heart-wrenching," 

Kligerman said immediately after his race. "I wanted to be in this and be able to just chill out. Now we're playing the waiting the game. I don’t know if I’ll even watch, maybe I’ll go sit somewhere, alone."

When Kligerman met with reporters after his fate was decided following the second race, he revealed he had a group of friends with him and watched the second race on TV in his motorhome.

"Watched every lap, sadly, it was terrible," said Kligerman smiling, a day after ending practice on his car’s roof after being collected in a seven-car accident.

"But," he continued, "It’s an honor (to be in this race). I'm grateful, astonished to be here, but ready to get the job done."

He will join six other first-time Daytona 500 starters -- Whitt, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett. Three others will make only their second 500 start -- Landon Cassill, Josh Wise and polesitter Austin Dillon.

Meanwhile, Ryan Truex, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Morgan Shepherd, Eric McClure and Dave Blaney (withdrew) did not qualify for the race.

And while nearly a quarter of the grid is comprised of first or second-time Daytona 500 starters, two-time NASCAR Cup champion Terry Labonte told reporters in the garage late Thursday night, that this -- his 32nd -- would be his final Daytona 500.

At various times during the 60-lap second race, Terry Labonte and Casey Mears looked like they may miss the field, but a nine-car accident coming out of the last turn on the final lap shuffled the way the field was set.
 Mears was still shaking his head about the way it all transpired.

"We just lost fuel pressure with two laps to go, so I finally came down pit road and everybody crashed and it ended up working out in our favor," Mears said. "I'm not sure how the final numbers worked out, but definitely an interesting end to the race."

For a while, Terry Labonte was battling his younger brother, 2000 Cup champ Bobby Labonte, for the final transfer spot. Then it looked as if the past champion's provisional would be settled between them as well. They ended up safely inside the transfer window -- Terry, 12th and Bobby, 13th -- and neither had to use a champion's provisional.

"That was close," said Terry Labonte, whose best Daytona 500 finishes were runner-up showings in 1986 and 1997 are his best efforts.

"I told (crew chief) Frankie (Stoddard) this was going to be my last 500 and that it would suck not to make the race. Fortunately we did.

"It was the first time I’ve ever had to go through (the extreme emotions). Thank goodness these guys are in the race. They came and tested and were slow so they built a brand new car. It’s hard for a single-car team without the resources all these other guys have and they're not as high in points as they'd like to be. But thank goodness we made the race.

"You know I still love this, but I’ve been dragging this retirement out for seven years. I told them it was my last 500 last year too, but this year I really mean it. This will be my last 500 this Sunday."

On the other end of the spectrum, Whitt, who will start 23rd in the No. 26 Speed Stick Gear Toyota and Kligerman, who will start 41st, were still giddy at the thought of taking their first Daytona 500 green flag in 72 hours.

"It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, kind of a hard way to do it," said Whitt. "But being out and back in with just a lap or so to go is pretty gnarly."

His teammate couldn’t have agreed more.

"I’ve always had a saying in life: it will all work out, always has, always will and that’s what helps me sleep," Kligerman said. 

"In my career, I didn’t come with a lot of family funding, not a lot of fanfare to this point. I've had to kind of fight and root and gouge for everything I’ve got.

"I’ve had a lot of times in my career where someone walked up to me before I got in the car and said, 'this is your only shot, make it count.'

"I have a lot people that believe in me at this stage in my career. I know how to get it done. My team knows how to get it done. I had confidence in that."


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