Open Qualifying Thread: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series | Daytona International Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA - NASCAR presented defending Daytona 500 Champion Trevor Bay with a birthday cake on Sunday, February 19, 2012. Bayne turned 21 on Sunday. (Matt Weaver/NASCAR Ranting and Raving)

Weather permitting...

Much like the old sandy beach speed trials held across the street, Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying session is about one thing:

The pursuit of speed.

The top-35 rule has eliminated much of the drama from Daytona 500 qualifying. But for the 13 drivers vying for six starting spots, today is everything.

With 49 starting entries, 36 drivers are guaranteed a starting spot in the Great American Race. This includes the top-35 rule beneficiaries and a provisional starting spot to the most recent Sprint Cup champion not otherwise in on speed or a provisional. Six drivers will not make the field after the conclusion of Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona.

The rest is better explained by Scene Daily's Bob Pockrass.

The top two among the non-top-35 drivers in each qualifying race make the Daytona 500. Then three Daytona 500 spots go to drivers based on qualifying speed from Sunday.

The final spot goes to a past champion (Labonte or Elliott). If Labonte and Elliott qualify for the Daytona 500 through their finish in the qualifying races or their qualifying speed, then another spot is available based on qualifying speed from Sunday.

Those drivers will be split among the two qualifying races to give them an even shot of making the field. The lineups for the qualifying races are set in a complicated manner:

Top-35 drivers whose teams were in the odd position in 2011 owners points (first, third, fifth, etc.) are all in the first qualifying race, while those in even positions (second, fourth, sixth, etc.) are in the second qualifying race. The drivers not in the top 35 in owners points are then split between the two races based on their qualifying laps Sunday, with the fastest in the first race, the second-fastest in the second race, the third-fastest in the first race, etc.

Several factors and trends must be considered when attempting to predict a pole sitter.

Fords had the hot hand in qualifying practice on Saturday with Greg Biffle posting the top time in both sessions, including a 46.537 at 193.395 mph in the first session. Fords driven by Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, and Carl Edwards also took top-ten practice session spots. To be clear, that's six-of- the-top-10 - the Fords are fast.

The top Chevrolet in opening practice was driven by Jeff Gordon. Hendrick Motorsports won the pole at all four plate races last year, including the Daytona spring race where Hendrick cars took the top four spots.

Even Daytona 500 qualifying from a year ago took a Hendrick flair, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon taking the first row.

Live television coverage will start on FOX at 1 p.m. EST and will feature the voices of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip. For those who are away from a television set or prefer the radio broadcasts, www.motorracingnetwork.com will stream qualifying live on any supported computer or mobile device.

Paul Menard will be the first driver out and is expected to roll off the grid at approximately 1:05 p.m. Rain is in the area and track conditions are best described as 'very windy'. These factors could decide the outcome of today's qualifying session.

The complete qualifying order can be found after the jump. See you in the comments section!

Daytona 500 Qualifying Order:

  • Paul Menard
  • Jamie McMurray
  • Kurt Busch
  • Casey Mears
  • Carl Edwards
  • Joey Logano
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Ryan Newman
  • Greg Biffle
  • Marcos Ambrose
  • Tony Stewart
  • Danica Patrick
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Aric Almirola
  • Bobby Labonte
  • Jeff Gordon
  • Jeff Burton
  • Kevin Harvick
  • Juan Pablo Montoya
  • AJ Allmendinger
  • Elliott Sadler
  • Kyle Busch
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Landon Cassill
  • Martin Truex Jr.
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Regan Smith
  • Mark Martin
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Clint Bowyer
  • David Reutimann
  • David Ragan
  • David Gilliland
Drivers who aren’t into the top 35 and therefore don’t have a guaranteed starting spot for the Daytona 500. Remember: Three of these drivers will make the field today, plus either Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott (past champions):
  • Bill Elliott
  • Joe Nemechek
  • Trevor Bayne
  • Michael Waltrip
  • Kenny Wallace
  • Dave Blaney
  • Tony Raines
  • Mike Wallace
  • Terry Labonte
  • Robert Richardson Jr.
  • JJ Yeley
  • Robby Gordon
  • David Stremme
  • Michael McDowell
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