The 57 cars attempting to make next Sunday's Daytona 500 are being pushed on to pit road and qualifying is just around the corner. Unlike any other event on the NASCAR schedule, making the Daytona 500 is not as easy as posting a fast lap. We are going to take a minute to break down the qualifying process to hopefully help you sift through the confusion.
Today the cars will hit the track one at a time for two laps around the 2.5-mile behemoth that is the Daytona International Speedway. Sunday's action will be your typical qualifying session, with the field being arranged at the end of the day from fastest qualifier to the slowest. However, unlike any other weekend, the only two cars locked into their starting position are the top two qualifiers - and even that is not a guarantee.
Following today's some-what uneventful qualifying session, the field is broken up into two separate heats for Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150s. The duels are broken up according to the top-35 2008 owner points, with the odd-numbered owner points teams competing in one race and the even-numbered teams competing in the second. Those teams that are not in the top-35 in owners points will be broken up according to their qualifying speed from Sunday's time trials - with the fastest qualifier in the first race, the second fastest in the second and so on.
The finishing order of the Gatorade Duels will determine the final starting order for the Daytona 500. The fastest two qualifiers from today's qualifying session are locked in position unless they are forced to a back-up car or have to change engines. From there on, the field is set by the finishing order of the Gatorade Duels.
The highest finishing teams in the top-35 in owner points, plus the two highest finishers outside the top-35 in the first race will line up in the odd-numbered positions, and same is true for the second race, only they will start in the even-numbered positions.
The remaining positions will be filled according to the fastest qualifying time. The 43rd starting spot is guaranteed to the car owner that has the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. If that team does not need to utilize the past-champions provisional, that position will go to the next highest qualifier.
To recap, the top-2 qualifiers are locked into the show after today's qualifying session. The remaining spots are determined by the finishing order of the top-35 plus four teams outside the top-35 in the Gatorade Duel 150s on Thursday. Those final spots will go to the fastest qualifiers outside the top-35 that failed to race their way into the show.
With 57 cars attempting to make next Sunday's Daytona 500, not everyone will be fortunate enough to make the show.
While this format almost as difficult to understand as trigonometry, we at HardcoreRaceFans.com will do our best to help you follow along and understand exactly what is going on.