The one thing I like about the Daytona 500, aside from the history of the famed race, is the fact that you actually have a pair of races to set the race. The Can-Am Duels will set, aside from the first two spots, the inside and outside rows for the big race.
Historically, the two races have different personalities. Normally the first one takes a calmer feel, while the second is one full of nerves, and not just for those racing in the second qualifying race.
This year, with NASCAR now having a charter system in the Sprint Cup Series, the field for the race has been reduced from 43 cars down to 40, and only 36 of those spots are chartered positions. That means four spots are open to teams that are not chartered in, and must rely on either a strong finish or qualifying speeds to make the field. In the first duel, you had four drivers going after two spots. In the second duel, it was similar with another four drivers going after two final spots in the field.
When the first duel was completed, one driver made it in because of his finishing position, while another had to go back on his qualifying speed to make it in. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. went on to enjoy another victory in a duel race, a win that came 15 years to the day that he lost his father in the Daytona 500, Ryan Blaney and Michael McDowell knew they were able to be locked into the field for Sunday’s action.
The second duel had a similar situation, but as I stated in the opening, it often is a more exciting and tense race. That was the case as on the final lap, entering the first turn, Martin Truex Jr. got tied up and suddenly his spin and wreck took out Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, who already was slated to start on the front row. Kenseth’s team ultimately took one look at the car and then went to the top of the hauler, pulling out the backup car.
That swap means he will have to surrender his best starting spot he’s earned in his career for the Daytona 500.
It is also expected to see both Johnson and Truex go to backup cars, meaning they too will go to the back of the field for the start of Sunday’s race.
That being said, going to the back to start the race is not as bad as it would be at other tracks. Because of the restrictor plates, the cars will already be running close together from the moment the green flag drops. It is also means that these teams have to be very careful over the next couple days with practice sessions.
One main rule that is normally in place for the season is the one-engine rule. In simple terms, teams must practice, qualify, and race with the same engine they started with. However, because of all the track time at Daytona leading up to this race, teams are allowed to make one engine swap if they desire on Friday. If they elect to not change engines, but then have to afterwards, it is the same rule as if the team goes to a backup car, as they must start at the back.
All teams will need to be careful over the next few days to make sure their equipment is ready to go for the biggest race. Many teams treat this as an event all on it’s own, and then say the real season begins the following week.
That may be true to an extent, but the fact of the matter is whomever wins this race will forever be linked to the greatest spectacle, at the greatest racing venue in the country. When the pace car makes the left turn onto pit road at 1 p.m. on Sunday, the off-season concludes, and it is 200 laps to glory.
DAYTONA 500 STARTING LINE-UP
Inside/Outside (Driver-Car Number, Sponsor, Make)
- Chase Elliott-No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet/Matt Kenseth-No. 20 Dollar General Toyota*
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.-No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet/Kyle Busch-No. 18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota
- Joey Logano-No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford/Jamie McMurray-No. 1 McDonalds & Cessna Chevrolet
- Ryan Blaney-No. 21 Motorcraft & Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center Ford/Kurt Busch-No. 41 Haas Automation & Monster Energy Chevrolet
- Kevin Harvick-No. 4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet/Carl Edwards-No. 19 Arris Toyota
- Denny Hamlin-No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota/Ty Dillon-No. 95 Cheerios Chevrolet
- Kasey Kahne-No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet/Kyle Larson-No. 42 Target Chevrolet*
- Greg Biffle-No. 16 KFC Nashville Hot Ford/Danica Patrick-No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet
- Chris Buescher-No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford/Brian Vickers-No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
- Ricky Stenhouse-No. 17 Fastenal Ford/Matt DiBenedetto-No. 93 Dustless Blasting Toyota
- Austin Dillon-No. 3 DOW Chevrolet/Michael Annett-No. 46 Pilot & Flying J Chevrolet
- Trevor Bayne-No. 6 AdvoCare Ford/Landon Cassill-No. 38 Florida Lottery Ford
- Brad Keselowski-No. 2 Miller Lite Ford/Jimmie Johnson-No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet*
- Regan Smith-No. 7 Golden Corral & Nikko Chevrolet/Martin Truex Jr-No. 78 Bass Pro Shops & Furniture Row Toyota*
- David Ragan-No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota/A.J. Allmendinger-No. 47 Kroger & Scott Products Chevrolet*
- Clint Bowyer-No. 15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet/Casey Mears-No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet
- Bobby Labonte-No. 32 Can-Am Ford/Aric Almirola-No. 43 Smithfield Ford
- Brian Scott-No. 44 Albertsons Co. & Shore Lodge Ford/Michael Waltrip-No. 83 Maxwell House Toyota*
- Paul Menard-No. 27 Peak Antifreeze & Menards Chevrolet/Ryan Newman-No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet
- Michael McDowell-No. 59 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet/Robert Richardson-No. 26 Stalk-It Toyota
*Starting at rear by going to back-up car.