Harrison Burton and the No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang rode a Ford train to a ninth-place finish in the first of two Bluegreen Vacation Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday’s night.
Burton’s finish earned him the 19th-place starting spot for Sunday’s 65th-annual Daytona 500.
Burton, in the Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang, lined up fifth for the start of the 60-lap, 150-mile Duel after posting the ninth-best time in pole qualifying on Wednesday night.
He dropped back a bit in the opening laps but was back among the top five by Lap 13 and ran in the top five until the Ford drivers headed to pit road at the race’s midpoint.
Burton settled in sixth place after returning to the track as the Ford pack played their strategy just right and held the lead through the pit stop cycle.
Burton ran in sixth place until the final two laps, where he dropped three positions to ninth but emerged with a Mustang with no damage heading into the two practice sessions and then the Daytona 500.
The caution-free race was won by Ford’s Joey Logano while Burton was one of seven Mustang drivers in the top nine at the finish.
“We were playing the conservative game all day,” Burton told reporters after the race. “We wanted to keep our 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imagining Ford Mustang in one piece.
“That was the biggest thing, really. The risk versus the reward for this race isn’t there unless you’re going to win it…. I tried to be smart and tried not to flip on the backstretch this year.
“I’m trying to learn from mistakes, but it was a decent day.”
Burton said the true indicator of the speed and handling of his Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Mustang won’t show until the upcoming practice sessions, when the No. 21 team will tune their car for the Daytona 500.
“We had a pretty ill-handling car just from qualifying,” he said. “We tried to go for a fast qualifying lap and did that, but that kind of hurts you in this race.”
No adjustments were allowed between qualifying and the Duels.
“We’ll get the car driving better,” Burton said. “I’ll be more aggressive on Sunday and hopefully be up front at the end of that thing.”
The first Cup practice session is scheduled to start at 5:35 p.m. on Friday, with the second and final practice getting the green flag at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The 65th-annual Daytona 500 is scheduled to start just after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, with Stage breaks at Laps 65 and 130.
FOX Sports 1 will carry the TV coverage of the practice sessions, with FOX broadcasting the Daytona 500.