Waltrip waited patiently late Thursday to qualify after his No. 51 Toyota crashed in the first of two qualifying races.
He got loose and slammed into the inside wall in the closing laps of the first qualifier, which caused a 25th place finish.
"I was (so) happy," he said in relief when he knew he qualified for the season-opening Sprint Cup race.
He got help from Scott Speed and Mike Bliss, who finished who 13th and 14th, respectively, in the second qualifier.
Four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, former Formula One standout Juan Pablo Montoya and 2009 winner Matt Kenseth also qualified.
"Everybody wants this big prize and everybody wants to win the Daytona 500," Johnson said.