By Dustin Albino

Carl Long entered this year’s Speedweeks feeling hopeful. Just last week, the team announced it signed to field JJ Yeley’s No. 55 Ford, with sponsoring Timmy Hill. 

But boy, the stress a pair of 150-mile qualifying races can have on a team owner that doesn’t have a car guaranteed into the Daytona 500 is unfathomable. 

After having the two slowest qualifying laps on Wednesday evening — Yeley was 41st, eight-tenths of a second behind 40th and Hill last, more than one-second off the pace — there was one MBM Motorsports entry in each of the two Bluegreen Vacations Duel races. And though the cars had a speed discrepancy, Yeley was sitting pretty in the first Duel. 

Early in the opening Duel, Yeley lost the lead draft, though hung onto the rear of BJ McLeod’s No. 78 car. The two Ford entries worked together, while The Money Racing‘s Kaz Grala, the other non-chartered car that the No. 55 car was racing, lost the draft. During Grala‘s green flag pit stop, he made a mistake by speeding on pit road. He ended up losing the draft, going two laps down. 

Meanwhile, The Money Team Racing Chevrolet hung onto the lead pack after it went a second lap down, and the No. 50 car began catching Yeley rapidly. It came down to the final set of corners on the last lap, but the No. 50 car shot by the No. 55 Ford, eliminating Yeley from Daytona 500 contention. 

A frustrated Yeley, who was drafting with Daniel Hemric, was frustrated because the No. 16 Chevrolet pulled over with a couple laps remaining. He believes it was a Chevrolet team helping another Chevrolet team, in Grala. 

“We went to the top and let the first pack go by and all of a sudden we lost almost a second,” Yeley said after the Duel. “I knew Hemric had his hand out the window, looked like he might have been hot, that‘s all I was taking it for.

“The spotter said the [No.] 50 was coming in the next pack and it took me a second to realize, Team Chevy guy, [Hemric] basically slowed us down and did what he needed to do for the manufacturer, but it cost us a position in the Daytona 500.”

Yeley thought he was sitting pretty, believing the No. 55 car was going to make the race. The only thing he believes he could have done differently was block the pack Grala was in, bunching up the running order. But as he noted, blocking from top to bottom is a challenge when there is a group of cars drafting together, catching him quickly. 

“They were going so much faster, it would have been difficult to go down in front of them and force them to do something stupid,” Yeley added. “Huge, heartbreaking disappointment, knowing it looks like you‘re in good shape and have the rope pulled out from under you.”

The team owner, Long, added the No. 55 team was working with a new spotter this season. In the past, he believes his previous spotter, who now spots for NY Racing, would have been more aggressive and possibly called Yeley down to block the bottom. 

In the second qualifying race, Hill finished in 20th, four laps off the pace. Going into the race, Long knew it would be a longshot for the No. 66 Ford to make the field based on its lack of speed. 

And for the second straight season, MBM Motorsports failed to get either of its cars into the Great American Race. With the chunk of change that’s handed out for just making the event, it’s hard to make that up during the course of the season. 

“Tougher than anything you can imagine,” Long said of missing the field. “You have sponsorships and you have stuff you put together to come out here for it.”

With the expense to start up the Next Gen car, this puts MBM in even more of a predicament. 

“About triple that at least,” Long stated in how it hurts the team financially compared to missing the race in 2021 with both cars. “The deals that I‘ve made with my sponsors, if they come on board and we miss the race, I would run them somewhere else. I have no choice but to run again.” 

For the rest of the weekend, Yeley will look to qualify the No. 66 Xfinity Series car into the field on Saturday, while Hill looks to lock his family-run No. 56 truck into the Truck Series race on Friday.

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