NASCAR

Race within a race to make the Daytona 500

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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I'm still struggling to understand how Daytona 500 qualifying works so you must be, too. I spoke with Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby, and here's a breakdown.

Front row: The only two drivers that are locked into where they will start the Daytona 500 are polesitter Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon on the outside of Row 1. Top 35: Based on 2005 owner points, the top 35 drivers are locked into the race which leaves eight available positions to the other 23 teams among the 58 on the entry list. Champion's provisional: Terry Labonte will race in the Daytona 500 because he's the most recent past champion who is not in the top 35 in owner points so, realistically, we came to Daytona knowing 36 of the 43 starters. That leaves seven positions. Four drivers from the Duel 150's: The top two finishers in each of Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150's that aren't locked into the top 35 make the field. They could be cars that finish 1st and 2nd or cars that finish 10th and 18th. That's how we get positions 36 through 39.

Race 1: Drivers not in top 35
Start Pos. Car No. Driver
5. No. 36 Bill Elliott
(in on speed)
11. No. 00 Hermie Sadler
(in on speed)
15. No. 61 Kevin Lepage
17. No. 15 Paul Menard
19. No. 50 Larry Foyt
21. No. 64 Randy LaJoie
22. No. 74 Derrike Cope
23. No. 23 Mike Skinner
25. No. 92 Chad Chaffin
26. No. 52 Larry Gunselman
27. No. 59 Andy Belmont
30. No. 96 Terry Labonte
Qualifying speeds for final three spots: Then we look at the speeds from last Sunday's Bud Pole day. The rules say the next top four speeds that are not in the top 35 in owner points and are not in the top two in the qualifying races. But if Terry Labonte uses the champion's provisional, only three drivers will advance on speed. If you were one of the fastest three drivers in qualifying who was not in the top 35, you don't know where you're going to start in the Daytona 500, but you are guaranteed to start the race.
  • One of those drivers is Bill Elliott, who is in an MB2 car with a Hendrick engine. He was fast throughout testing so it's not surprising that he clinched a spot.
  • Travis Kvapil's team has struggled, but owner Cal Wells' entire operation put a tremendous effort into making sure they were in the Daytona 500. With the help of Richard Childress Racing engines, they made the show.
  • The third driver to make the field on speed is a little bit of a surprise, Hermie Sadler. I'm not sure that anyone expected that he would make it, but he will race in the Daytona 500. Sadler's fortune is Scott Riggs' misfortune. Watching Riggs practice and test Ray Evernham's third car, it was fast enough to make the top three speeds outside the top 35, but they tore up a gear during qualifying.
Race 2: Drivers not in top 35
Start Pos. Car No. Driver
8. No. 32 Travis Kvapil
(in on speed)
10. No. 7 Robby Gordon
16. No. 27 Kirk Shelmerdine
17. No. 95 Stanton Barrett
18. No. 4 Scott Wimmer
22. No. 89 Morgan Shepherd
24. No. 09 Mike Wallace
25. No. 37 Chad Blount
26. No. 78 Kenny Wallace
27. No. 10 Scott Riggs
28. No. 80 Carl Long

Duel 150 preview

The Duel 150's are 60-lap races with a pit stop. If the pit stop happens under green, it could determine who makes the Daytona 500. If you make a mistake on that pit stop, you can take yourself out of the running for a spot in the 48th running of the Great American Race. People may say, "Is an easy 150 and a hard 150? Where do they put the top 35 in points in the 150's? Are all 35 in one race?" NASCAR splits up the top 35. If you were an even-numbered points finisher in 2005, you start in the second 150. If you were an odd finisher, you start in the first one. The exceptions are Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. Last year, Burton finished 18th in points, but the Daytona 500 polesitter is automatically the Duel 150 polesitter. The driver on the outside of Row 1, Gordon, is automatically on the pole for the second 150.
  • Who to watch in Race 1: Paul Menard would be one favorite to race into the Daytona 500 because the Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars race well despite being slow by themselves. Menard does not have a tremendous amount of Nextel Cup experience in restrictor plate racing, but last year, he had the Busch car to beat at most of the restrictor plate racetracks so he certainly understands the draft. Kevin Lepage has a fairly fast race car. He proved last year that he knows how to race his way in. If he's got the car to do it, Mike Skinner understands the draft, and he would have to be a favorite.
  • Speed Mail Larry
  • Who to watch in Race 2: Scott Riggs would have to be the favorite. He's had a fast car, and Robby Gordon should be strong, too. Kirk Shelmerdine and Stanton Barrett had impressive qualifying runs. Those two single-car operations are on a very limited budget, but Shelmerdine out-qualified all three DEI cars while Barrett out-qualified two of the three. That's pretty impressive. If Shelmerdine and Barrett do not make the Daytona 500, they should still be very proud of what they accomplished coming to Daytona. Although Elliott, Kvapil and Sadler have clinched positions in the Daytona 500 on speed, they could get in by being one of the top-two finishers in the Duel 150's. If they do race their way into the Daytona 500, it would be great news for Robby Gordon and Kevin Lepage because they were the fourth- and fifth-fastest on speed and woud get in on their qualifying effort. Making the Daytona 500 comes down to having a good driving, handling and running car. You also have to avoid wrecks and have a good pit stop, especially if it comes under green... and there's a strong chance that it will.


    FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

  • Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton, Scott Riggs

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