DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Trying to make a splash with his new team, Ty Dillon fell a half-lap shy of making the Daytona 500.
Dillon was one of four drivers competing Thursday night for the final two open spots in qualifying races for the Daytona 500. He was passed by Ryan Preece as the race neared the finish and was sixth.
Not good enough at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m a competitor. I want to win. I want to get in races,” Dillon said. “I believe I’m one of the best out here week in and week out. It’s been tough. It’s been tough since the end of last year.”
Dillon leaned against the No. 96 car on pit road and rested his head on the roof. His run at a fresh start with a new team had ended in heartbreak.
“I believe in myself that I can get it done in these races and to finish sixth and not get any reward for it is hard,” Dillon said. “I’ll get the great reward of spending time with my kids on Sunday and we’ll probably watch the race. It definitely hurts.”
The 28-year-old Dillon was trying to make the field with Gaunt Brothers Racing, a team that missed the Daytona 500 last season when Daniel Suarez failed to qualify. Dillon was in a bottom lane that was slowed by Denny Hamlin, and that allowed Preece to pass him thanks to a push from Ryan Newman. That knocked Dillon — desperately wanting to stay in the Toyota program — straight out of the Daytona 500.
“You get so close to being in the Daytona 500 again. It’s tough,” Dillon said.
Dillon will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.
Dillon went home, big brother Austin went to Victory Lane. Austin Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner, won the second of Thursday night’s qualifying races.
“I gave him a hug. He was in really good spirits,” Austin said. “He’s excited in the work he’s putting in in the offseason and I think it will pay off.”
Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala both earned their first berths into the Daytona 500 by claiming the two available transfer positions in the Duels.
Dillon spent four seasons driving for Germain Racing but lost his ride when lack of sponsorship led the team to close. The 23XI Racing team backed by Hamlin and Michael Jordan bought the charter. Gaunt Brothers last year ran its first full Cup season but struggled in part because COVID-19 protocols wiped out almost all practice, qualifying and testing.
Out of work, Dillon had the sponsorship needed to at least give a Daytona 500 run a go with Gaunt Brothers. He actually started the first race for 23XI Racing in the Busch Clash because Bubba Wallace wasn’t eligible. Dillon won a race stage in 2020, which earned him a seat in the Clash.
GBR only had 2021 plans to run at Daytona, Talladega and the road course races on the Cup schedule for 11 total events. Dillon is winless in 162 career Cup starts, but he has one Xfinity Series victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and three Truck Series wins.
His grandfather is team owner Richard Childress, and Austin Dillon drives for Richard Childress Racing. Ty Dillon has made an effort to make his name outside of the family organization.
“It’s been just unique this offseason for me with the ups and downs,” Dillon said.
Eight drivers came to Daytona trying to claim four available spots in the 40-car field. David Ragan and Preece claimed the first two in Thursday’s time trials, leaving one spot in each of the Duels.
Timmy Hill, Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson all failed to qualify. Aric Almirola won the second duel and could be in line to start on the pole after the front row drivers face uncertainty with their qualifying cars. Alex Bowman had engine issues that could move him to the back of the field if the No. 48 team needs to change out the engine, and Hendrick teammate William Byron was involved in an accident and will have to go to a backup car, sending the No. 24 to the rear.