How to make the Daytona 500 in 600 words or less

DAYTONA BEACH FL - FEBRUARY 13: Trevor Bayne driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 13 2011 in Daytona Beach Florida. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - With just hours before the start of the Duel at Daytona, many fans are still confused about how the 43-car field will be decided upon for Sunday's Daytona 500.

For starters, the two fastest teams from Sunday's qualifying session are locked in, regardless of their top-35 status. Additionally, the two fastest qualifiers -- Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle -- are also locked-in to the front row regardless of how they finish their respective Duels.

The top 35 drivers in last year's owner points automatically make the field. That list includes:

  • Tony Stewart
  • Martin Truex Jr.
  • Casey Mears
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Marcos Ambrose
  • Jeff Gordon
  • Aric Almirola
  • David Ragan
  • Ryan Newman
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Joey Logano
  • Juan Pablo Montoya
  • Kyle Busch
  • Danica Patrick
  • Elliott Sadler
  • Regan Smith
  • David Gilliland
  • Clint Bowyer
  • Bobby Labonte
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Kurt Busch
  • Jamie McMurray
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Jeff Burton
  • Kevin Harvick
  • A.J. Allmendinger
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Paul Menard
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (David Ragan's 2011 team)
  • Mark Martin (Purchased points from FAS Lane Racing)
  • David Reutimann (BK Racing purchased points and assets from Red Bull)
  • Landon Cassill (BK Racing purchased points and assets from Red Bull)

Three others made the field based on their qualifying times. That list included defending race-winner, Trevor Bayne who qualified ninth-fastest at 193.615 mph. While the team was at risk of missing the race, the Wood Brothers decided to not purchase points, believing in the car and their young driver.

"[Making the field] is a lot of relief," Bayne said. "Now we're back to the same position we were in last year. We started the Duel knowing that we were locked in and it was just wherever we finished and now we're right back there, so I'm ready for it."

Tony Raines and David Stremme also qualified for the race because, along with Trevor Bayne, they had the top three qualifying times among drivers not in the top-35 in 2011 owner's points.

Terry Labonte is the 1996 and 1984 Sprint Cup Series champion and is guaranteed a spot as the most recent Cup champion to have not already qualified.

Bill Elliott is the 1988 Sprint Cup Series champion and is rooting for Terry Labonte to race his way into the field. If Labonte is among the top two finishers among non-automatic qualifiers, Elliott would make the field on the past champion's provisional.

Kenny Wallace was the 30th-quickest qualifier and fourth of non-top-35 drivers. If one of Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines or David Stremme are among the top two finishers in their respective qualifying race, Herman's chase for Daytona will have ended in success.

Dave Blaney was the 32nd-quickest qualifier and fifth of those not in the top-35. If any two among Bayne, Raines or Stremme finish in the top two of non-automatic qualifiers in their respective qualifying race, Blaney makes the field. Blaney is a stout restrictor plate racer and could make the field based on his Twin 175 finish.

Michael Waltrip was the 35th-quickest qualifier and sixth of those outside the top-35. He's facing the same scenario. Waltrip needs Bayne, Raines or Stremme to finish in the top two of the non-automatic qualifiers. If that happens, he will make the Daytona 500.

Six drivers must race their way into the Daytona 500 and cannot fall back on their qualifying times. That list includes:

  • Joe Nemechek
  • J.J. Yeley
  • Mike Wallace
  • Robby Gordon
  • Robert Richardson Jr.
  • Michael McDowell

Four total spots are on the line for today's Gatorade Duel at Daytona. It's just a shame that not everyone can make it. There's really not a bad story or unlikable driver in the garage this year. The Gatorade Duel at Daytona is set to begin at 2 p.m. EST and will be broadcast live on Speed. We'll post an open thread around noon. See you in the comments section.

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