Apologetic Waltrip qualifies for Daytona 500

Two-time winner Michael Waltrip qualfied Thursday for the Daytona 500 in a backup car.

Michael Waltrip finally had something go right at Daytona.

The two-time Daytona 500 champion raced his way into NASCAR's biggest event in a backup car Thursday afternoon, under a black cloud of controversy after NASCAR disqualified his primary Toyota in a cheating scandal.

He and Boris Said, who outnosed Mike Bliss for the second spot, will race Sunday in the Super Bowl of racing.

"I'm just sad and happy at the same time," Waltrip said. "That's what Daytona does to you."

Waltrip guaranteed he would remain the talk of the garage by spinning out Dale Earnhardt Jr. early in the 150-mile qualifying race.

He charged back to finish eighth in a race won by two-time series champion Tony Stewart.

Junior, whose crew made quick repairs to his car, also charged back to finish second.

Said, who already had secured a guaranteed starting spot in the 43-car field 500 field, nipped former truck champion Bliss for the second transfer spot into the race, leaving Bliss on the outside looking in.

That made it an even better day for Waltrip, whose new Michael Waltrip Racing team is the flagship operation for the new Toyota NASCAR effort.

Since Said raced his way in, that means Waltrip's rookie teammate David Reutimann, racing in the second 150, will be in the 500 based on his qualifying from last Sunday's time trials.

The third driver on Waltrip's new team, Dale Jarrett, finished 18th in the first race, but was guaranteed a spot as a former series champion.

"That's big for our whole organization," Jarrett said. "Maybe as down as everybody was starting the day, now we're going to be stepping a little higher."

That includes Waltrip.

"I knew I didn't need anything cheating on my car to get in the 500," said Waltrip, who hours earlier apologized for his team's actions earlier in the week.

"There was a time yesterday when I thought about going home, but I'm a racer. That's what I do."

Stewart favoured to win

Stewart, who won the non-points Budweiser Shootout last Saturday, added to his credentials as the man to beat Sunday, easily holding off former 500 winner Earnhardt in a two-lap showdown in a race that went three extra laps because of a late caution flag.

Jeff Burton finished third, followed by Daytona pole-winner David Gilliland, 2006 Nextel Cup rookie Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., Earnhardt's teammate.

The first race was slowed by six caution flags.

For a while, it look as if James Hylton, the 72-year-old hoping for a comeback at Daytona, would make the field for his first Daytona 500 since 1983 and first Cup race since 1993.

After running as high as second by staying on the track when others pitted during a caution period, he got shuffled back on a late restart and faded out of contention.

Former open-wheel star A.J. Allmendinger, driving for the new Team Red Bull, lost his shot at making the race when he collided with Robby Gordon and hit the wall hard on lap 23.

Others who failed to race their way in included two-time Daytona winner Bill Elliott and 2002 winner Ward Burton, who crashed.