DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Multi-time USAC champion J.J. Yeley continued the hard luck theme of Thursday night’s two Bluegreen Vacations Duel races at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
By contrast, Timmy Hill was the underdog hero as the 26-year-old competitor defied the odds to race his way into the Daytona 500 starting lineup for the first time.
Just as Daniel Suarez crashed in the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel race and failed to make the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500, Yeley experienced a similar fate in Duel No. 2.
Yeley crashed down the backstretch after the right-rear corner of his Rick Ware Racing Ford was clipped by the car driven by Corey LaJoie. Yeley’s Ford suffered significant right-front damage that ended his race and his hopes of making the Daytona 500.
Yeley and Tony Stewart are the only drivers to win all three of USAC’s major championships in the same season. Stewart won the midget, sprint and silver crown titles in 1995. Yeley accomplished the triple crown in 2003.
Yeley ran his first NASCAR Cup Series race in 2004 and ran his first full season in 2006. He has never won a race in 291 NASCAR Cup starts and is winless in 329 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts.
He won’t get a chance to break that streak in Sunday’s Daytona 500 as Brenden Gaughan and Timmy Hill both advanced into the 40-car starting lineup from the second Duel race.
Hill finished 16th in his MBM Motorsports Ford, earning his spot in the Daytona 500 as the highest finishing driver without a charter. Gaughan, who finished one position behind Hill, locked himself into the Daytona 500 based on his qualifying time from last Sunday.
While young William Byron was celebrating his win in the second Duel in victory lane, Hill was all smiles on pit road as he was congratulated by his crew and team owner Carl Long.
“I don’t think the smile is ever going to come off my face,” Hill said. “We’re not just here to participate; we’re here to compete in this race.
“A lot of emotions ran through my veins the whole race. We were up, we were down, we were in, we were out. Those guys put on a great battle and it was nerve-racking the whole time.”
Gaughan was more secure in his position because his speed from Sunday’s single-lap qualification runs was sufficient to make the race, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Once Yeley crashed, both drivers were safely in the field.
“For us, people don’t really give us much of a shot,” Hill said. “To come into this and make the field is great because we proved a lot of people wrong. For me, this is my 10th year in NASCAR and my first year to make this race.
“It’s really special for us.”
In 2017, Hill tried to make the Daytona 500 field, but his engine failed and he didn’t qualify.
“The thought crossed my mind I may never have a shot at this,” Hill admitted. “It costs so much money to try to make this race. With the new car coming next year, and without a charter, we may never have another shot at making the Daytona 500.
“The purse money for a team that size is huge. We’re going to take that money to pay off some of our racing debts. It costs a lot of money to try to make the Daytona 500. To come here, we spent a lot of money on this motor. These guys really had to dig deep to get a motor to get into this race.”
Hill has branched into team ownership in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series last season. He partnered with Long’s Cup team to come to Daytona and attempt to qualify.
“I’m really appreciative of all the experience Carl Long has given me,” Hill said. “Carl and I have a lot of respect for each other on this race team. Carl has bailed me out in my career where I didn’t have many opportunities, he put me into the car.
“I was prepared for the pressure and it wasn’t a problem. I knew we were going to make this race.”
Hill will also race in Sunday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series contest, the NASCAR Racing Experience 300.