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Gatorade Duel 2012: Schedule And Preview Of Thursday's Daytona 500 Qualifying Races

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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)