We're getting bombarded with questions about what Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s practice wreck means for the Daytona 500 starting lineup. Here's what we know:
Where they'll start
– Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still technically the pole-sitter, but he will start at the rear of the field for both Thursday's Gatorade Duel and the Daytona 500. No matter how he finishes in the Duel, he'll have to drop to the back of the pack just prior to the start of the Daytona 500.
– Martin Truex Jr. will go to a backup car and will start his Gatorade Duel in the rear of the field. However, Truex won't start at the rear of the Daytona 500 field. The reason is, Truex isn't technically qualified for the Daytona 500 yet – only Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are (as the pole and outside pole winners). So whatever spot Truex earns in the Gatorade Duel, he gets to keep.
– The same goes for Denny Hamlin, who had to change a transmission. He'll start at the rear of the field for his Gatorade Duel race, but can retain whatever position he gets as a result of that race.
Who starts the race?
– Since Earnhardt Jr. remains the "pole-sitter" in name only, the new starter of the race will either be Gordon the driver who wins a Gatorade Duel on Thursday. According to NASCAR, Earnhardt Jr. still has the right to choose whether he starts the race on the inside or outside.
-- Whatever line Earnhardt Jr. chooses, his line will move up once he drops to the rear of the field. So if Earnhardt Jr. chooses the outside, then Earnhardt Jr. could elect to start the race on the outside. If that happened, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon would start the race on the inside.
-- If Earnhardt Jr. picked the inside for some reason, that person would technically be the No. 3 qualifier for the race but advance to No. 1 when Earnhardt's line moved up. Gordon would stay on the outside pole in the No. 2 spot. Many of you have already noted the eerie possibility of the No. 3 qualifying car starting the Daytona 500 on the 10th anniversary weekend of Dale Earnhardt's death.
Notes on Earnhardt Jr.'s car
-- Earnhardt Jr. is on his third car of Speedweeks. Not only did he wreck his Daytona 500 pole car, but his Bud Shootout car was also wrecked. Since the Bud Shootout car was originally slated to be the Daytona 500 backup car, it was sent back to Charlotte to be repainted (it was previously a brand-new car). So as of now, Earnhardt Jr.'s Daytona 500 car is a former Jeff Gordon chassis that was used in the October Talladega race – Gordon finished eighth. If that car wrecks in the Gatorade Duel, then the Bud Shootout car should be back in Daytona in time for Friday's practice sessions.