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Waltrip Qualifies For Daytona 500

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AP
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip was able to breathe again Thursday after racing his way into the Daytona 500.

Tony Stewart, the favorite to win Sunday's stock car Super Bowl, won the first of the two 150-mile qualifying races, and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon charged from fourth to first on the final lap to take the second race. It sets up a showdown with Stewart, who has yet to win the 500.

Joe Nemechek and Mike Wallace raced their way into the 500 with finishes of ninth and 11th in the second race. They join Waltrip and Boris Said, who nosed out Mike Bliss, in the first qualifying race.

But it was Waltrip who had everyone's attention, especially after nearly knocking friend and former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the opener.

Waltrip raced his way into NASCAR's biggest event in a backup car Thursday, under a black cloud of controversy because NASCAR disqualified his primary Toyota in a cheating scandal.

"I'm just sad and happy at the same time," said Waltrip, who hours earlier apologized for his team's role in the cheating mess. "That's what Daytona does to you."