The Daytona 500 has what may be the quirkiest system for setting the field of any race in all of professional motorsports. On Sunday, it was Pole Qualifying day at Daytona. Pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 only sets the front row for the race, though. It also sets the starting lineups for the two 150-mile Gatorade Duel races on Thursday afternoon. Qualifiers in the odd positions on Sunday are put in Race One, while qualifiers in the even positions are put in Race Two. The rest of the field is determined by the results of the Gatorade Duels. The winners of the Duels (excluding the front row starters for the Daytona 500) claim the row 2 starting positions in the Daytona 500, and it goes back from there. The top-two cars outside the Top 35 in owner points gain entry into the race from each duel (and start based on where they finish in their duel), and then the top four non-Top 35 teams qualifying times (three if a past champion’s provisional is required) determine the remaining starters. The format is so difficult for the average person to understand that the SPEED Channel commissioned a flash animation to describe the format a couple of years ago.
On Sunday, Martin Truex Jr., with a lap of 47.872 seconds (188.001 mph), claimed the pole for the 51st running of the Daytona 500, which rolls off on February 15. Truex’s margin over second-place Mark Martin was only 47 thousandths of a second.
These two drivers are locked into their starting spots for the Daytona 500.
After the nearly three-hour qualifying session ended, Truex was all smiles.
“I’m just real proud of all my guys and their hard work and efforts this winter,” Truex said. “We were fast yesterday and Bono (Kevin Manion, Truex’s crew chief) felt like he had a little bit left, and well, he was right. They tuned it up; super-tuned the motor and did a little here and there and made it through the room of doom (technical inspection) back there and it was all good.”
Martin, who landed on the outside of the front row for his debut with the No. 5 team, was all amped up for the 500.
“I can’t wait to get this Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevy out in the draft,” Martin said. “Everybody on this team is so charged up.”
Behind Truex and Martin were the No. 39 of Ryan Newman in third, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya in fourth and Bill Elliott, who had the fastest times in both practice sessions leading up to qualifying, in fifth.
Three-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified sixth at a time of 47.942 secs (187.727 mph), followed by Aric Almirola and Travis Kvapil. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.
Chevrolets claimed the top-four positions in qualifying and eight of the top 10. The top Toyota qualifier was Kyle Busch, who timed in 15th. The top Dodge qualifier was Reed Sorenson in the No. 43 McDonald’s Dodge. Sorenson turned in only the 28th fastest time out of 56 qualifiers.
James Hylton’s No. 60 Dodge was forced to withdraw from the proceedings because carburetor and battery issues prohibited the 74-year-old racer from getting onto the track before qualifying. Under NASCAR rules, to be able to attempt to qualify, a driver must make at least one practice lap. NASCAR has also decreed a minimum speed of 175 mph average at Daytona that must be achieved during practice for a team to be eligible to attempt to qualify.
In addition to the front row being determined today, the top three drivers outside of the Top 35 in owner points from last season were also locked in today. Those drivers are Elliott (fifth), Kvapil (eighth) and Stewart (10th). Terry Labonte, who qualified a lowly 50th in Prism Motorsports’s No. 66 Toyota, was also locked into the field via the past champion’s provisional (if he doesn’t race his way into the field on Thursday), since Stewart qualified into the field on speed.
Behind the three drivers that locked into the Daytona 500 on speed Sunday was the No. 78 of Regan Smith, who used his Hendrick power to turn in the 14th-fastest time. Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 was 19th fastest, followed by the No. 08 of Boris Said in 20th. These are the teams that are most likely to get locked in on speed during the Duels.
The drivers behind Said will likely have to race into the Daytona 500 starting lineup on Thursday. These drivers, in the order that they qualified on Sunday, are as follows: Scott Riggs (32nd), AJ Allmendinger (35th), Brad Keselowski (37th), Jeremy Mayfield (43rd), Kirk Shelmerdine (45th), Mike Wallace (46th), Tony Raines (47th), Mike Garvey (48th), Derrike Cope (51st), Mike Skinner (52nd), Kelly Bires (53rd), Carl Long (54th), Geoffrey Bodine (55th) and Norm Benning (56th).