NASCAR.COM - Daytona 500: Kaz Grala perseveres to make the field for Floyd Mayweather, The Money Team Racing

NASCAR.COM - Daytona 500: Kaz Grala perseveres to make the field for Floyd Mayweather, The Money Team Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Each time the car rounded Turn 4, team owner Willy Auchmoody moved with it, positioning himself against pit wall to track his No. 50 Chevrolet as it sped down the frontstretch. Once out of view from that vantage point, Auchmoody returned to the back of the pit box, located in Stall 39, which had a clear view of the gigantic video board showing Thursday night’s qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.

This back-and-forth pacing began shortly after his driver, Kaz Grala, was penalized for speeding on pit road with 24 laps to go in the short, 60-lap event.

“Sorry, guys,” Grala said over The Money Team Racing radio, as Auchmoody listened in.

Responded spotter Joe White: “No, you’re good. We’re still in this.”

Until that moment, Grala looked to be the favorite between him and fellow open contender JJ Yeley to advance out of the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 and into Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX). After Grala served his pass-through penalty, though, Yeley was in the transfer spot with 23 laps remaining.

“I thought we were done, I just did,” Auchmoody said. “I mean, you know, we had a mistake. It happens. I mean, everybody, the best of the best, they speed on pit road. I just thought we were done. But like the spotter kept saying: Stick with it, stick with it, stick with it.”

So, Auchmoody stuck with it, continuing his five-foot mini loop in his personal section of the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

With 13 laps left, Auchmoody’s wife, Becky, stepped down from the pit box. She stood by her husband’s side whenever he returned to the video board. Words weren’t spoken, but looks were exchanged.

Grala soon asked on the radio whether he could catch Yeley.

“I don’t believe so with 10 to go,” White said. “But anything can happen. Don’t give up.”

The white flag waved. Willy stepped up onto pit wall, clenching his water bottle in both hands at his stomach.

Grala had caught up to Yeley. Falling in order on the bottom, Grala was able to capitalize on the draft there to pass Yeley, who wound up running the top alone.

The finish line had long been crossed before Grala asked what everyone was thinking — did he make it?

Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Grala finished 18th. Yeley 19th.

Both of Willy’s arms went up. He turned around with a full smile, spiked the bottle to the ground and literally jumped down to hug Becky. There was a lot more jumping and hugging before Willy somehow disappeared amid the crowd.

Questions of Willy’s whereabouts were answered when the video board showed him, no lie, jumping and hugging Grala on pit road.

“Oh my God,” Becky said. “I can’t even talk. This is amazing. It’s always gotta, you know, (happen) right at the end. We got in at the end, literally the last second. I think it’s just the way, just the way to finish it. That’s how we got here — in 35 days.”

Keep that in mind.

The rest of the gang — family relatives, crew members, sponsor representatives — made its way to the car. Different location, same celebration.

Willy was still trying to form full sentences when Becky interrupted and handed him her cell, indicating it was her mother.

“Hey, ma,” Willy said. “We’re in the Daytona 500. I gotta go, I gotta go. I love you.”

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