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NASCAR changed its qualifying procedures for the 2013 season. No more guarantees for the top-35 and no more going in order of slowest to fastest during qualifying. But those changes aside, getting into the Daytona 500, the Sprint Cup Series’ season opener and marquee event, is a whole other ball of wax.
The condensed version of Daytona qualifying procedure goes something like this. A typical-type qualifying session his held a week prior to the race, but only the two front row positions are set in stone during said session. The rest of the Daytona 500 race field is set pending the results of two qualifying races on Thursday afternoon.
That’s the over-simplified version of how the Daytona 500 starting grid is set. For those new to the sport and others, perhaps, needing a refresher course, here’s the detailed explanation.
In case you missed it, a qualifying session that looked like your typical, run-of-the-mill session was held on Sunday. During that session, Danica Patrick claimed the pole to make NASCAR history as the first women to win a pole at NASCAR’s top level, and Jeff Gordon was second-fastest to claim the other front row starting spot for the Daytona 500.
Using a list of qualifying speeds from that session, with drivers ordered from fastest to slowest, all attempting to make the Daytona 500 are broken up into two race fields to compete in two Budweiser Duel races on Thursday. Driver in odd positions on that speed chart, for example, fastest, third-fastest, fifth-fastest and so on, compete in the first duel race, with the drivers in even-numbered slots on the speed chart competing in a second race to take the green flag shortly after the conclusion of the first.
Excluding the two drivers who claimed their spots on Thursday (in this case Patrick and Gordon), the top-15 finishers in each duel race claim the next 30 positions (third – 32nd on the Daytona 500 starting grid. Those 15 drivers in the first duel claim the odd spots on the grid, with the winner taking the third starting spot, the second-place finisher the fifth, and so on. Meanwhile, the top-15 finishers in the second duel, excluding the guy (Gordon) already with a spot on the grid, claim the even positions on the Daytona 500 starting grid, with the winner taking fourth, the second-place finisher sixth and so on.
Then we revert back to Sunday’s qualifying session to set the next few spots. Positions 33 through 36 on the Daytona 500 grid go to the four fastest drivers in Sunday qualifying who didn’t claim front row spots or didn’t finish in the top-15 in their respective duel race.
But there are 43 spots on the Daytona 500 starting grid. Well, those final seven are what’s known as provisional spots. Positions 37 through 42 go to the six cars highest in 2012 owner’s points among those not already in based on previously mentioned methods. The 43rd and final spot is known as the past champion’s provisional. It goes to the most recent Sprint Cup Series champion who still isn’t on the grid. If there isn’t a past champion not already in, the final starting spot goes to the next highest car in last year’s owner’s points still not in the field.
If this sounds rather complicated, don’t worry; this method is only used to determine the field for the Daytona 500. Another, more standard, method is used for the other 35 points-paying races on the schedule. As I mentioned in the beginning, 2013 holds a few changes for that standard. We’ll go over those sometime next week to get you ready for the rest of 2013.
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