Daytona 2013: Budweiser Duels preview

Jonathan Ferrey

The Budweiser Duels sets the lineup for the Daytona 500 and here are three questions heading into today's qualifying races:

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique and unlike any other race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It's a multi-tiered process based on time trials, finishing position in the Budweiser Duel qualifying races, with the 43-car field rounded out by owner points from the 2012 season.

However, for those drivers and teams who posted a slow speed on Pole Day and are on the bubble of whether they can fall back on their points position from last year, Thursday's Duels represent their best - and in some cases, last - opportunity to make the Daytona 500.

And at 150-miles in length, the twin Duel races are the optimal test session for teams to see where they stack up to the competition; especially for those teams ensured of competing in the 500.

Here are three questions heading into the Duels, with each having a significant impact on how the Daytona 500 will unfold on Sunday:

How does Danica do in the draft?

As has been the case throughout Speedweeks, all eyes will be on Danica Patrick as she takes to the track for the first time this season in an actual race. And not having competed in the Sprint Unlimited, Patrick has yet to run in a pack, and while she has been fast in single-car runs, being fast at Daytona with other cars around you is a whole different animal.

In addition, with her limited experience in a Cup car, the Duels provides Patrick with a perfect platform to acclimate herself to what she will be facing come Sunday.

However, Patrick also needs to be aware of the risk vs. reward. Because one mistake in the Duels -- either by herself or someone else -- could easily cost Patrick her No. 1 starting position if she were to damage her Chevrolet to the point where she was forced to go to a backup car for the 500.

What to make of NASCAR's new car?

The great unknown throughout Speedweeks is how NASCAR's new Gen-6 car would react in a race. And thus far, drivers are still trying to answer that particular question.

The idea initially was that the Unlimited would be a good litmus test. However, that proved to be incorrect because the Unlimited featured a select few drivers - and was decimated further by an early multi-car wreck - no one really got a complete understanding of the new brand-specific car.

That should change Thursday, as the Duels will not only be contested with larger fields, but also be run in the afternoon. As such, track conditions will be more in line with what drivers will encounter Sunday as the track will likely be slick under the Daytona sun.

Play it safe or race to win?

Because of varying agendas, drivers approach the Duels with different mindsets.

Some drivers view the twin races as actual races - meaning they want to win and will treat this race as they would any other.

Others merely want to get through the 150-mile race with their cars unscathed and have little regard for where they will start the 500. Consequently, these drivers will be playing it safe and won't take many -- if any -- chances on the track. For this group their only goal is to make it to Sunday with their car still intact.

And then there are those whose only chance of racing in the Daytona 500 comes with having to finish high in the running order to earn a transfer spot. For these drivers, no risk is too great in their quest to qualify for "The Great American Race."

The Budweiser Duels takes the green flag at 2 p.m. ET and can be seen live on Speed.

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