The new Ford Dark Horse lived up to its nomenclature in Wednesday night‘s NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session for Sunday‘s DAYTONA 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Running the fastest lap in both rounds of the time trials, Team Penske‘s Joey Logano put his car on the pole for the Great American Race, as he and Front Row Motorsports‘ Michael McDowell locked their Mustangs—featuring a new body style dubbed the Dark Horse—into the front row for the 500.

The Oxford dictionary defines “dark horse” as “a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”

Logano secured his first Busch Light Pole Award at Daytona with a final-round lap in 49.465 seconds (181.947 mph), beating McDowell (181.686 mph) by 0.261 seconds. It is also the first DAYTONA 500 pole for Team Penske.

“This is all about the team,” said Logano, who scored the 29th pole of his career. “I‘d like to take credit, but I can‘t today. The guys have done such an amazing job working on these cars. Speedway qualifying is 100 percent the car.

“There‘s only so much a driver can do, so I‘m really proud of them. It‘s a big win for our team… Finally, someone else wins the pole—that part feels good. I‘ve never even been close to a superspeedway pole before, so my first pole on a speedway couldn‘t be at a cooler event than the DAYTONA 500.”

But was his pole-winning run unexpected? Consider that Chevrolets had won the previous 11 DAYTONA 500 poles, that cars sporting Hendrick Motorsports power had won the previous nine and that Hendrick drivers had claimed the top starting spot in eight of the last nine years.

So, yes, the Fords found success in a car that was unknown and untried on a superspeedway.

Hendrick drivers Kyle Larson (181.635 mph), Chase Elliott (181.178 mph) and William Byron (181.174 mph) qualified third, fifth and sixth, respectively, with Ford driver and 2022 DAYTONA 500 winner Austin Cindric posting the fourth fastest final-round lap at 181.207 mph.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch were seventh and eighth fastest, followed by Ross Chastain and Harrison Burton.

But the only two drivers who know where they will start on Sunday are Logano and McDowell, both former DAYTONA 500 winners. The rest of the field will be set in Thursday night‘s Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying races, with the odd-numbered qualifiers racing in Duel 1 and the even-numbered qualifiers competing in Duel 2.

Among those trying to race into the 500 is seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who failed to time into Sunday‘s race in his No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Toyota.

In fact, the Toyotas—also with a new body style this season—showed a jarring lack speed in single-car runs, with Erik Jones leading the manufacturer‘s effort with a 22nd-place run. Johnson was 35th fastest.

In the race among six unchartered cars for four available spots, Kaz Grala was unable to make a qualifying run because of a mechanical failure on his No. 36 Ford, locking Anthony Alfredo (20th fastest overall) into Sunday‘s race with a lap at 179.648 mph, fastest among the open cars.

“We‘re in, and to not have to race in tomorrow and just remove ourselves for some of the sketchy circumstances and focus on Sunday is just an amazing, amazing feeling.”

David Ragan claimed the second guaranteed starting spot on speed among the unchartered cars when Johnson failed to better Ragan‘s lap at 179.283 mph.

“I didn‘t have a chance to beat Jimmie Johnson too often in my career when he and I were running week-in and week-out,” said Ragan, who hasn‘t raced a Cup car since the regular-season finale of 2022 at Daytona. “So, I‘ll take the small victories when I can. Yeah, that just shows you how close the competition is.”

Driving the No. 84 Toyota, third fastest of the open cars at 178.845 mph, Johnson must race his way into the DAYTONA 500 field in the first of the two Duels.

“I had higher expectations for sure, but we are lumped right there with the other Toyotas,” Johnson said. “The 43 (Erik Jones) car got a little more out of it, so I wish we had a bit more out of ours, but it is what it is. We will go out and race hard tomorrow night and try to make the 500.

“I‘ve never been in this position, so I don‘t know. I came down here mentally prepared to race my way in if that was required. I‘m well studied. I spent a lot of time working on the environment of the Duels and the way the race will unfold. Just get out there and race hard and see how it unfolds.”

B.J. McLeod, J.J. Yeley and Grala will be competing with Johnson for the two remaining spots in the race.

— NASCAR Newswire —

See the Qualifying results, Duel #1 Starting Lineup and Duel #2 Starting Lineup page.

See more race information on the Daytona 500 page.

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