DAYTONA, Fla. (Feb. 14) — “I’m gonna race in the 50th annual Daytona 500!”

That was the exuberant exclamation from NASCAR veteran and JEGS racer Kenny Wallace as he climbed out of the window of his Furniture Row/ Chevrolet Monte Carlo at the conclusion of Thursday’s first Gatorade Duel 150 at Daytona International Speedway. By finishing highest among the non-qualified drivers vying for a spot in the Daytona 500, Wallace assured himself of a spot on the starting grid of NASCAR’s biggest race.

“There are two things in my life that mean everything to me,” an emotional Wallace said. “My wife and my children are first, always, and racing is a close second. To make the field of the Daytona 500, especially this year because it’s the 50th annual Daytona 500, well it means the world to me.”

A 17-year veteran with 342 starts, Wallace overcame a tough start in the Gatorade Duel to finish eighth overall in the 60-lap race. He and Brian Vickers, who finished 11th, were the two lucky racers to earn starting spots in the Daytona 500 with their performances Thursday.

“This is the result of a full month of hard work by everyone on this team,” Wallace said. “There are 50-something cars here trying to make it and when we made our first few laps most of them were ahead of us. But [crew chief] Ed Nathanman kept pecking away at the tune-up and we slowly started picking up ground.

“I’m really pleased with the way I drove through the Gatorade Duel and kept my head about me. We were struggling at first but I just raced my way back through the field. We were in fourth right at the end and I got freight-trained a little but we held onto eighth and that got the job done.

“This is a real thrill for all my friends at JEGS. Woody Woodruff (JEGS Director of Racing) was right there when I got out of the car and he was as pumped up as I was. I’ll have this same firesuit on in the 500 so that means I’ll have down both my arms. Hopefully, we’ll take it a long way on race day and really have something to celebrate.”

This will mark Wallace’s 10th start in the Daytona 500. His best finish was a respectable 16th-place showing in 2003. His first Daytona 500 came in 1993.

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