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We now know what the starting lineup will look like for Sunday's Daytona 500.
The twin 150-mile qualifying races held Thursday at Daytona International Speedway determined the full starting grid for NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl, with Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth winning their respective Gatorade Duel races.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle had already claimed the top two spots by virtue of their fast times in last weekend's Daytona 500 qualifying session.
What wasn't determined until today? Which bubble drivers would get into the race and which would leave Daytona heartbroken.
In the first Duel, Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon took the two available transfer spots; Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek did the same in Duel No. 2.
Those four drivers will join Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines and David Stremme – whose time trial speeds earned them a berth in the 500 – and Terry Labonte, who makes the race by virtue of a past champion's provisional.
Going home are big names such as Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Kenny Wallace, along with Mike Wallace, Robert Richardson Jr. and JJ Yeley.
Here is the starting lineup for the 2012 Daytona 500:
Matt Kenseth won a late scramble to the finish line of Thursday's second Gatorade Duel race by taking advantage of Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle's ill-timed move.
Biffle tried to cross in front of Kenseth coming to the white-flag lap, but Kenseth turned his wheel to the left and ducked inside to take the lead.
Regan Smith and Jimmie Johnson bumped for position behind him, but Kenseth was able to drive to the win.
Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney (12th) and NEMCO Motorsports driver/owner Joe Nemechek (17th) transferred into the Daytona 500, though it wasn't much of a race for the transfer spots. Of the seven drivers who could have taken a transfer spot in the second Duel, only one finished better than 17th.
Kenny Wallace, the fan favorite who was attempting to get RAB Racing into its first Sprint Cup Series race, had motor problems and finished 21st.
Wallace failed to make the Daytona 500, along with Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Mike Wallace, Robert Richardson Jr. and J.J. Yeley.
The second Gatorade Duel was mostly uneventful, and drivers didn't seem to try any big moves until the last couple laps. There were no cautions in the 60-lap race.
Here's how the second Gatorade Duel finished:
Danica Patrick crashed her car on the final lap of Thursday's Gatorade Duel race at Daytona International Speedway, marking an unfortunate end to her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action.
Patrick was running at the back of the pack and then tried to make a move down low on the white-flag lap. But Jamie McMurray came down the track on the backstretch and made contact with Aric Almirola, who then ran into Patrick.
The rookie Cup driver headed straight for the inside retaining wall at full speed and collided with it in a violent crash. A split-second before she hit, Patrick let go of the wheel and held her arms up toward her head.
"I just stayed low and we were just making our run down the back, and all of a sudden I got hit," Patrick said. "I don't know if I could have done anything different. It was a pretty fast and sideways trajectory, so I kind of just braced myself."
Patrick is already locked in to the Daytona 500, so she'll just have to start Sunday's race in the rear of the field along with Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard and David Gilliland, all of whom also crashed during the Gatorade Duel.
"I'm just really bummed out we didn't finish the last two corners," Patrick said. "Maybe the backup car will be faster."
Prior to the crash, Patrick said she was feeling comfortable in her first Sprint Cup action and felt it was a fairly calm race. Her confidence is high heading into the Daytona 500, she said.
"I feel good," she said. "I feel comfortable and confident and feel if things fall our way, I can take the experience from today to Sunday. I think it can be a good day."
Here's the video of Patrick's crash:
Tony Stewart won Thursday's first Gatorade Duel under caution, earning the right to start Sunday's Daytona 500 in the third position behind pole-sitter Carl Edwards.
It was Stewart's third Gatorade Duel win, following up victories in 2005 and 2007. The defending Sprint Cup Series champion led for 21 of the 60 laps.
Stewart's win did come at the expense of teammate Danica Patrick, who crashed out on the final lap. Patrick is already in the Daytona 500, so she'll simply have to start in the back of the field on Sunday.
Patrick made contact with Aric Almirola after her former JR Motorsports teammate was shoved down the track by Jamie McMurray. She crashed nearly full speed into the inside retaining wall on the backstretch, but was able to walk away from the unhurt.
Michael McDowell and Robby Gordon both earned spots in the Daytona 500 by virtue of being the top two finishers who hadn't already qualified. McDowell finished fourth and Gordon was fifth. Rounding out the top five were Dale Earnhardt Jr. (second) and Marcos Ambrose (third).
Here are the results from the first Gatorade Duel:
OK, you're stuck at work and the Gatorade Duel qualifying races are about to begin at Daytona International Speedway.
That sucks. But guess what? You can follow the races a couple different ways online.
First, you could watch NASCAR.com's RaceBuddy, which is activated for today. That's not a bad deal – it's free – though you get what you pay for – you can only see certain angles of the race.
Second, you can listen to the race – also for free – at the website of the Motor Racing Network.
And third, you can follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter.
Carl Edwards, who won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, starts on pole for today's first 150-mile Duel race. Greg Biffle is on the pole for the second Duel, which is expected to begin at approximately 4 p.m.
Enjoy the Duels!
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GATORADE DUELS:
When Carl Edwards addressed the NASCAR media on Wednesday, he told reporters that he wasn't concerned about wrecking his car in this afternoon's Gatorade Duel at Daytona International Speedway.
"This might sound dumb, but I am not too worried about if we crash the car," he said. "We have a good backup car and it is identical and should be just as fast."
But Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth isn't buying it. Kenseth noted that Edwards, the Daytona 500 pole-sitter, would lose the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday's race if he crashed today and needed a backup car.
"Well, Carl is lying because he is on the pole if he doesn't tear his car up," Kenseth said Thursday. "I don't think he can start on the pole with a backup car. He is not being truthful at all."
Kenseth also said Edwards wouldn't want to wreck, because all teams bring their best car as the primary ride for the 500 – not the backup.
"If you didn't think this is your best car, they wouldn't have brought this one for the 500," he said.
So what do the teammates agree on?
Both feel the Gatorade Duel races are an opportunity to learn for the Daytona 500. Today's 150-mile qualifying races don't mean anything in terms of points, but they could teach drivers something about what the 500 will look like.
"I would like to race pretty hard in that 150," Edwards said. "Obviously, if it gets really crazy, then maybe I would think about trying to give myself more room. But right now, the mission is to go race and learn."
Kenseth said he'll take a similar approach at the behest of crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
"(Fennig) wants me to race hard, and that is what the fans want us to do and what we are paid to do," he said. "We can learn stuff for Sunday by putting ourselves in all kinds of different positions and racing hard. That is our plan, to try to work our way to the front and hopefully have a shot at the end."
It's Gatorade Duels day at Daytona International Speedway, which means the starting lineup for the 2012 Daytona 500 will be set when this afternoon's qualifying races are finished.
So far, all we know is that Carl Edwards will start from the pole position and Greg Biffle will start second. The rest of the starting positions are up for grabs.
Perhaps more important? Determining which bubble drivers make the big show and which ones are sent home empty-handed.
Below are the starting lineups for each Duel race, with the drivers who are eligible for a transfer spot in bold (including the drivers already locked in via time):
Gatorade Duel No. 1 starting lineup
It's Gatorade Duels day at Daytona International Speedway. We've got the actual race start time and some other facts about today's Daytona 500 qualifying races for you below.
What time do the Duels start? The first Duel race begins at 2:19 p.m. EST (engines will be fired at 2:07 with a command by Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte), followed by the second Duel at approximately 4:01 p.m. The second Duel start time is approximate because NASCAR officials can't be sure how long the first Duel will last.
Race name/distance: The Gatorade Duels are a pair of 150-mile qualifying races (60 laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway) which set the field for the Daytona 500. The starting lineup for every other race in the NASCAR season is determined by a time trial, but the Daytona 500 is unique and uses the twin qualifying races. After today's short races -- which each include half the Daytona 500 entrants -- the starting grid for Sunday's main event will be set.
TV and radio: Today's races can be seen on SPEED. If you're stuck at work and aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen. You can also listen online for free here.
National anthem: Singer Catina Mack of nearby Orlando, Fla., will do the honors today.
Tickets: Wide open. You'll have no problem getting tickets if you want to make a quick trip to Daytona for the Duels. In fact, the Daytona 500 itself has yet to sell out this year.
Weather: The National Weather Service is predicting mostly sunny skies with a high near 85. It will be a bit breezy, however, with wind gusts as high as 25 mph.
Last year: Kurt Busch claimed the first Gatorade Duel race last year by holding off drafting partner Regan Smith, and Jeff Burton edged then-teammate Clint Bowyer to win Duel No. 2.
When Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150-mile races (2:19 p.m. EST, SPEED) take the green flag, drivers will have wildly different goals and strategies.
Of the 39 drivers who are already locked in to Sunday's Daytona 500, about half seem to plan on playing it safe and avoiding big pack racing – even if it leaves them with a poor starting position for the main event. The other half feel it's important to drive in race conditions to properly prepare for the 500.
And then there's a third group – drivers like Michael Waltrip and Kenny Wallace, who don't yet have a spot in the field – who plan on going all-out to claim one of the two transfer spots available in each Duel.
Needless to say, the intersection of those differing agendas could prove to be dicey.
"I want to use this race car in the Daytona 500," said Jimmie Johnson, whose No. 48 team plans to play it safe. "I don't want to lose it in practice or in the Duel."
"The biggest variable in the equation is just don't hurt the car that we've got," Tony Stewart said. "We're locked into the race, and I think even if we don't get the starting spot we want, I still think you can come from the back much easier and get to the front. The biggest thing is to just take care of the race car."
But other drivers feel they need to learn something from the Duel in order to properly prepare for the Daytona 500.
"This might sound dumb, but I am not too worried about if we crash the car," Carl Edwards said. "We have a good backup car, and it is identical and should be just as fast.
"My mission is to go race and learn."
Jeff Gordon said he was taking a similar approach, adding his team was in "aggressive" mode.
"As much as I don't want to scratch it up, we want to go out there and put ourselves in race conditions," he said.
Some drivers, of course, don't have a choice. Those on the bubble must go for a transfer spot or risk missing out on the most important race of the year.
For those men, wrecking the car has no consequence.
What: Gatorade Duel 150-mile races
Time: 2:19 p.m. EST Thursday (second race begins after the first one concludes)
If you didn't spend every moment of Sunday on Twitter or watching FOX (perhaps you had a job or a family that required some attention), your head might be spinning a bit over Daytona 500 qualifying.
Who is in the field? Who is still on the outside? What's next?
Let's try to break it down:
• Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle took the top two spots for the Daytona 500 during Sunday's qualifying session, but those are the only two drivers who officially have a starting spot. In reality, though, any team which has top 35 owner points from last season – whether they earned them or obtained them – is also in the 500; they just don't know where they'll start yet.
• Aside from the front row, the other 41 starting positions are still up for grabs and will be determined during Thursday's Gatorade Duels, which are a pair of 150-mile qualifying races unique to Daytona. The starting lineup for every other race is determined by a standard time trials session.
• In addition to Edwards and Biffle, Sunday's qualifying did provide some celebration for some other drivers – but for different reasons. NASCAR sets aside three Daytona 500 spots for the fastest drivers in qualifying, so Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines and David Stremme – all who arrived at Daytona with no guarantee they'd be in the race – clinched a berth in the 500 thanks to their speeds.
• In addition, Terry Labonte will be in the race because he was the most recent past Cup champion without a guaranteed spot. NASCAR reserves one spot in every race for a driver such as Labonte, if needed.
• For those not in the field, there are two ways to make the Daytona 500 on Thursday. First, a driver such as Michael Waltrip could simply race his way into the big show by claiming one of the two transfer spots available in each Duel. Second, a driver like Kenny Wallace could rely on someone already with a timed spot – Bayne, Raines or Stremme – to finish in a transfer position and allow Wallace to move up.
• Bill Elliott is in a similar situation, though he could make the race if Labonte claims a transfer spot on Thursday.
• Aside from Waltrip, Wallace and Elliott, he other drivers on the outside looking in are: Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Michael McDowell, Mike Wallace, Robby Gordon, Robert Richardson Jr., and JJ Yeley.
To make it simple: There are 10 go-or-go-home drivers and only four more spots available for the Daytona 500. The Gatorade Duels will set the full lineup on Thursday afternoon (1 p.m. EST, SPEED).
NASCAR disallowed Clint Bowyer's Daytona 500 qualifying time on Sunday after his car was found to be too low in the left front.
Bowyer's team sent the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota through inspection after the driver posted the 22nd-fastest time of the session, but it flunked the height sticks officials use to make sure cars are within the rules.
After letting the car "settle," the team tried again but had the same result. Bowyer will now have to start his Gatorade Duel – he's in the second of the two 150-mile races on Thursday – in the rear of the field.
"Really very surprised," MWR competition director Scott Miller said. "I don't know if we got something stuck in the bleed hole in the shock, but the front just didn't come back up. It's all the same stuff we ran in practice, and it was coming back up.
"We'll go over there and get to the bottom of it and see what happened."
A NASCAR spokesman said there will not be any further penalties to the team, which is standard procedure in such situations.
Miller said the action was not intentional.
"It's never good to be in this position right here, but as far as the (Gatorade) 150 goes, you're going to be to the front and to the back of that thing," he said.
A late draw and a gust of wind may have cost Trevor Bayne a shot at the Daytona 500 pole, but the defending race winner did earn a significant consolation prize.
With a ninth-place effort in Sunday's time trials at Daytona International Speedway, fastest among drivers who weren't locked into the race, Bayne assured himself of a starting position in next Sunday's 500.
That wasn't quite enough, however, to erase Bayne's disappointment at not claiming a front-row starting spot. Bayne went out 38th for his qualifying laps.
Carl Edwards, who led a Roush Fenway Racing sweep of the front row, was the fifth driver to make an attempt.
"I feel pretty good about the lap," Bayne said. "Last year, I would have been jumping up and down about qualifying in the top 10, but I really thought we had a shot at the pole, as good as our car was Saturday (second-fastest in the final practice session)."
"It's just the wind was against us. Going through (Turns) 3 and 4, I could feel it kind of gusting onto the nose of our car, so at that point, there's not much you can do. I held it wide open, and they gave me a great race car, so I think it's going to race really good, and that's all that really matters."
Though he scored an improbable victory in last year's race, Bayne wasn't locked into the field this year because his car owners, the Wood Brothers, ran a limited schedule in 2011 and finished the season outside the top 35 in owner points.
Accordingly, Bayne was relieved to secure a starting spot in the 500 without having to race his way into the field in Thursday's first Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race, where he'll start fifth.
"Yeah, it's a lot of relief," Bayne acknowledged. "Now we're back to the same position we were in last year. We started the Duel knowing we were locked in, and it was just wherever we finished, and now we're right back there – so I'm ready for it."
Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle will start first and second in the Daytona 500. The other 41 spots on the grid will be determined by the results of Thursday's Duels.
David Stremme pointed to his No. 30 car – a fire-engine red vehicle with a noticeable lack of sponsorship – and gestured to the handful of crewmen working around it.
"That's the whole team, right there," Stremme said with a chuckle. "We've got eight guys and three dogs at the shop every day."
Logic says Stremme and his Inception Motorsports team have no business being in the Daytona 500. The team is underfunded, unsponsored, undermanned and less than one year old – not exactly a recipe for making NASCAR's biggest event.
But logic doesn't drive race cars, and Stremme's 26th-place qualifying effort during Sunday's Daytona 500 time trials turned out to be just enough to lock him in to the Great American Race.
Now, no matter what happens next week, Stremme's team will take home at least $250,000 in winnings.
"It's a big, big deal for us," Stremme said. "Now we can race some more races coming up and keep going."
With a limited budget, Inception Motorsports did not even bring a backup car to Daytona International Speedway. The one Stremme qualified is the only superspeedway car owned by the team.
Stremme and his investor partners were able to purchase the car after the team start-and-parked in 16 of the 18 Cup races it made in 2011.
"Some people criticize start-and-parks, but we do it to raise money to keep racing," Stremme said. "That's how we got through the winter, and that's how we were able to buy this speedway car."
"We had enough money to go to Phoenix and Vegas, but that's just money from last year that we won. I'm not taking a dime out of it; I don't get paid nothin'."
The former Chip Ganassi Racing driver, 34, believes he belongs at the Sprint Cup Series level. He decided to try and prove that point by starting Inception Motorsports with an investment group last year.
In the offseason, Inception switched from Chevrolet to Toyota after qualifying for 18 of the 23 races it entered in 2011. Stremme and the team arrived in Daytona hopeful they could somehow make the race – but it was far from a sure thing.
"We unloaded off truck, and right there we were borderline to get locked in," he said. "We said to ourselves, 'Well, we might have a chance.'"
The next order of business is finding a sponsor. Stremme said that interested parties can visit InceptionMotorsports.com for more information.
"We can give somebody the exposure a sponsor needs at a minimal value in a big-time area," he said. "We can operate a lot cheaper than other teams, and our goal is to try to run a full season at a minimal cost.
"I think it's a great deal. Hopefully, somebody will jump on board and believe in what we can do."
Winning the pole position for next Sunday's running of the Daytona 500 likely won't do much to take away Carl Edwards' pain of a close Sprint Cup Series championship loss last season.
But it can't hurt, either.
Edwards will start from the top spot for the 2012 Daytona 500 alongside Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle. Last year's Chase runner-up turned a lap of 194.738 mph, just ahead of Biffle's 194.087. That amounts to one tenth of a second.
"This is amazing," Edwards said. "... Coming down here, I didn't really consider the pole as something that was a possibility, so this is huge."
"We're so excited to have two of our cars on the front row," Biffle said. "A team effort all around."
The pole win marked Edwards' first in the Daytona 500 and 12th overall for manufacturer Ford. It's the second pole for team owner Jack Roush.
But Sunday's session wasn't all about the front row. Four drivers without guaranteed spots heading into Speedweeks were given locked-in positions as a result of their fast times.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne was the fastest among those, and he'll be joined by Tony Raines and David Stremme. In addition, Terry Labonte is in the field thanks to a past champion's provisional.
Here are the qualifying results – note: NOT the starting lineup -- from Daytona 500 qualifying (non-guaranteed drivers in bold):
Unlike every other NASCAR race this season, the qualifying order for the Daytona 500 was not set by the first practice speeds but rather a random draw.
The lottery balls chose Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray to lead off today’s qualifying session (1 p.m. EST, FOX) – which determines the pole position and outside pole position for next Sunday’s 500 – and for David Stremme and Michael McDowell to wrap things up.
Drivers with top 35 owner points will still qualify first (as usual), followed by the drivers who don’t have guaranteed starting spots. That’s where the real drama is today, because three of those drivers (plus a past champion) will be able to lock themselves into the field based on speeds.
No one wants to have to wait until Thursday’s Gatorade Duel to get into the Daytona 500, so today’s session could be huge for drivers without the promise of a starting spot like Trevor Bayne, Michael Waltrip and Kenny Wallace.
Here’s the order of how they’ll roll off the grid today for Daytona 500 qualifying:
It's Daytona 500 qualifying day at Daytona International Speedway and we've got the start time and some other facts about qualifying for you below.
What time does qualifying start? The most prestigious qualifying session in NASCAR begins at 1:05 p.m. EST today – a session that actually does little toward setting the actual Daytona 500 lineup. Drivers will get two laps apiece, and there's not much more to do than try to put the car on the bottom of the track and hope it goes fast. But everyone wants to win the pole, because it generates a week of publicity heading into NASCAR's Super Bowl.
What happens today? Officially, the Daytona 500 qualifying session only locks in two spots: The pole position and the outside pole position. But it will also allow three other drivers – who don't have a guaranteed spot in the 500 – to clinch a berth in the race based on their speed. The rest of the non-guaranteed drivers will have to rely on Thursday's Gatorade Duels to try and make the field. The Duels set the starting order for the Daytona 500, except for the two top spots decided today.
TV and radio: Today's qualifying session can be seen on FOX. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen (or you can also listen online for free here).
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman predicts rain will threaten today's qualifying session, though he feels it may dissipate by the late afternoon hours. NASCAR plans to wait as long as possible today to try and qualify, and would then bump qualifying to Monday if needed (instead of canceling it and setting the order by the rulebook).
Last time: Many fans were delighted last year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500, hoping it would lead to another 500 win from NASCAR's most popular driver. It didn't happen, though. Winning the pole for Daytona isn't worth much but bragging rights, when it comes down to it.
Who is going to win the pole for the Daytona 500?
While it may sound like an unanswerable question due to the unpredictability that is restrictor-plate racing, the truth is it's really not that random.
At the very least, using recent history as our guide along with speeds from today's opening round of practice, we can narrow it down to a select few drivers who will almost certainly be challenging for the honor of leading the field to the green flag in next Sunday's Daytona 500.
The first of the two Daytona 500 qualifying practice sessions has traditionally been more accurate because some drivers don't participate in the final hour.
Here is where the fastest driver in practice eventually qualified for the Daytona 500 – and more telling, where the eventual pole-sitter ranked on the speed charts after the first session.
|Year||Fastest in practice||Qualified||Pole Winner||First practice|
|2011||Mark Martin||8th||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||4th|
|2010||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2nd||Mark Martin||2nd|
|2009||Bill Elliott||5th||Martin Truex Jr.||4th|
|2008||Jimmie Johnson||1st||Jimmie Johnson||1st|
|2007||Ricky Rudd||2nd||David Gilliland||2nd|
So looking at the last five years, the person who won the pole position for the 500 was no worse than fourth in the opening round of practice. Using this as our barometer, as well as the speeds from practice earlier today, that means the Daytona 500 pole-sitter is likely to be one of the drivers who posted one of the top four speeds in first practice: Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon or Trevor Bayne.
Considering Gordon is the only Chevy driver among the top four, there is a 75 percent chance a car with a blue oval on its hood will win the pole on Sunday.
So let's prematurely congratulate Biffle, Ambrose or Bayne on their accomplishment.