DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and his six fellow Toyota drivers skipped the final practice for “The Great American Race.”
Even action sports star Travis Pastrana, who has little experience at Daytona International Speedway, sat out the 50-minute session Saturday. He is driving a third car for 23XI Racing, the team co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“I feel like I have the best Toyota here,” Pastrana said confidently. “I’m just so so proud, stoked, for this team and for them giving me this amazing hot rod.”
Sixteen of 40 cars did get in a final practice, but not pole-sitter Alex Bowman or his fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron.
Brad Keselowski topped the speed chart in his No. 6 Ford, reaching 191.201 mph during his 14-lap stint. Joey Logano was second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Ryan Preece and Harrison Burton. Ford drivers claimed the top six spots.
AJ Allmendinger was the quickest Chevrolet in seventh. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, fastest in practice Friday, turned just three laps and was 15th.
Balancing risk versus reward, the majority of the garage played it safe.
The 39-year-old Pastrana felt like he got enough educational seat time during the rain-shortened truck race Friday night. Pastrana finished 13th in his first race at Daytona in a decade.
He said his heart rate reached 182 beats per minute.
“Just under heart-attack level. It’s great,” he quipped. “I got to figure out a little bit on how to dip, dodge and dive (during wrecks). We’ll need a little bit of luck, but this car, this 67, it is locked in.”
Pastrana will start next to Johnson on the last row.
“Hopefully we won’t be a danger out there and people can start trusting me,” he said. “If it works like the truck, by the halfway point, we should have some friends.”
He’s already noticed one issue: Some of the field has been hesitant to work with drivers who have yellow stripes designating Daytona 500 rookies on their rear bumpers. Pastrana, IndyCar regular Conor Daly, Riley Herbst and Zane Smith are making their 500 debuts.
“Yeah, I want to get in there, I want to mix it up, I want to run three-wide with every driver in there who’s a hero of mine,” Pastrana said. “This is pretty awesome. But Conor, he’s like, ‘Man, people are avoiding me like the plague.’
“All us guys with yellow stickers on the back, we’re going to have to really start working with each other if we want a chance to get up there. There’s a couple of great cars back there, but they’re going to try to get rid of us as fast as they can.”
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