Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Qualifying for the Daytona 500


The Daytona 500 is a special race.

That’s kind of putting it lightly...

Storied history aside, the prestigious Daytona 500 takes place in late February and is, to a degree, the apex of a celebration of horsepower. It also starts a new NASCAR season every year. Fun fact: the race's origins go back to 1903 when it was a race on the beach. People like to say the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR as the Super Bowl is to pro football, but I know even less about football than I do racing... so let’s not go there.

For rookies like myself, NASCAR is confusing enough, and the Daytona 500 is probably the most complex of all the races because it is different than any other race -- it’s the only race where standard qualifying doesn’t apply. Budweiser Speedweeks are the weeks leading up to the Daytona 500 and within those weeks are a number of races and events for different series of NASCAR. For the Sprint Cup Series, drivers have two opportunities to qualify for the Daytona 500:

·         Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying (this year held Sunday, February 15)
·         Budweiser Duel – two 150-mile races (this year held Thursday, February 19)


But before we even get to qualifying, Budweiser Speedweeks gives us the Sprint Unlimited, an invitation-only 75-lap exhibition race that’s purely for show. The criteria for the Sprint Unlimited change every year, but in 2015 it includes Chase drivers from 2014, Coors Light Pole winners from 2014, and full-time 2014 drivers who have previously won a Daytona 500 pole. Matt Kenseth won this year's Unlimited.

The rules for Daytona 500 qualifying itself too seem to change to a degree every year. For the 2015 season, group qualifying is being used to set the field rather than the traditional single car runs. Since that might be enough to cause brain fade, let’s take a closer look at exactly how qualifying for the Daytona 500 works.



Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying
In 2015, stock cars will qualify for the Daytona 500 through group qualifying. Drivers are divided into two random groups for three rounds of racing, slotted in even and odd numbers.
·         The first round lasts five minutes and the 24 fastest cars go to Round 2.
·         10-minute intermission
·         The second round lasts five minutes and the 12 fastest cars go to Round 3.
·         7-minute intermission
·         The third round lasts five minutes and decides the top two cars.
This qualifying session sets only the front row for the Daytona 500 – the Pole Sitter and runner up.


Budweiser Duel
The Budweiser Duel happens several days after Coors Light Pole Qualifying and is a duo of races that determines the rest of the starting lineup for the big race the following Sunday.
·         Duel One – Cars that qualified in odd number positions in the qualifying session race in this duel with the Pole Sitter (in 2015, Jeff Gordon).
·         Duel Two – Cars that qualified in even number positions in the qualifying session race in this duel with the driver who placed second in qualifying.

Then we get to the colossus. The actual Daytona 500 race itself, the resplendent titan that heralds attention even from those outside NASCAR. According to Jayski.com, this is how the lineup plays out:
  • The two fastest qualifiers set starting positions one and two.
  • The highest 15 finishers in each Duel race - excluding the already locked-in front row - will earn a spot in the Daytona 500, and fill positions 3-32.
  • Based on their finishing position in the first Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the inside row (odd-number starting positions).
  • Based on their finishing position in the second Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the outside row (even-number starting positions).
  • Positions 33-36 will go to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not already earned a spot.
  • Position 37-42 will be provisional positions, and go to the highest six cars in 2014 owner points that have not already qualified via the Duel or Coors Light Pole qualifying. Once provisional starting positions have been assigned, they will be placed in the starting lineup by their qualifying speed in descending order with the fastest qualifying speed starting thirty-seventh.
  • The 43rd starting position will be assigned to any car owner who has the most recent eligible past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who did not make the field by any other method, providing the driver had competed in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. If the 43rd position remains unused it will be assigned to the next highest car in 2014 owner points not already locked into the field.
Even more on the Daytona 500 from Jayski

As we approach the Budweiser Duel, the qualifying format for 2015 has seen some agitation among drivers. But when it finally arrives on Sunday and brings with it the fanfare of a new NASCAR season, the Great American Race should make for a flat-out great day of racing. 

7 comments :

  1. Great read. Thanks so much. I am just so confused and my husband will usually explain to me. But I feel silly asking, after all these years. And the changes in qualifying seemed to make things a little different. Enjoy the race!!!

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