Qualifying races present both opportunity and peril ahead of 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon locked up the top two spots for the Daytona 500 after Sunday's pole qualifying, but even though the rest of the field is an uncertainty, two other starting lineups came into much clearer focus.
The qualifying speed chart determined the grid for Thursday's Budweiser Duel, the pair of 150-mile qualifying races that will set the starting order for the Feb. 24 Great American Race. Patrick will set the pace from the pole position in the first race and fellow front-row starter Jeff Gordon will start first in the second event of the twin bill.
The top 15 finishers in each Duel race -- excluding Patrick and Gordon -- will clinch a Daytona 500 berth, filling in spots 3-32 in the field. The rest of the 43-car field will be set by a mix of qualifying time (positions 33-36) and provisional berths (positions 37-43), with just two cars on the entry list failing to make the main event.
While teams will be eager to make the most of their track time to gain positions on the starting grid and learn more about their Daytona 500 vehicles, drivers also enter the two races with some anxiety over protecting their primary cars.
"That is our fastest car that we have. We want to keep it clean but we still have to learn what we need to do with it to have the best setup for the Daytona 500 when it comes on Sunday," said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will start sixth Thursday in the second Duel. "We will be out there trying to work on it each time we have pit stops and in practice. We will try to get it driving good. By the end of the 500 you want a car that is driving good, not just on speed."
Results of the qualifying races can often cast a preliminary winner as a Daytona 500 favorite. Matt Kenseth prevailed in the second Duel event last year before winning his second 500 crown, but he was the first driver to sweep both races since 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. accomplished the feat.
The lineups:Race 1 Race 2 Pos. No. Driver Pos. No. Driver 1 10 Danica Patrick 1 24 Jeff Gordon 2 21 Trevor Bayne 2 39 Ryan Newman 3 14 Tony Stewart 3 5 Kasey Kahne 4 11 Denny Hamlin 4 18 Kyle Busch 5 22 Joey Logano 5 20 Matt Kenseth 6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 7 42 Juan Pablo Montoya 7 27 Paul Menard 8 13 Casey Mears 8 33 Austin Dillon 9 99 Carl Edwards 9 15 Clint Bowyer 10 56 Martin Truex Jr. 10 31 Jeff Burton 11 48 Jimmie Johnson 11 1 Jamie McMurray 12 2 Brad Keselowski 12 9 Marcos Ambrose 13 29 Kevin Harvick 13 43 Aric Almirola 14 16 Greg Biffle 14 55 Mark Martin 15 38 David Gilliland 15 34 David Ragan 16 26 Michael Waltrip 16 35 Josh Wise 17 78 Kurt Busch 17 98 Michael McDowell 18 95 Scott Speed 18 32 Terry Labonte 19 51 Regan Smith 19 7 Dave Blaney 20 47 Bobby Labonte 20 36 JJ Yeley 21 83 David Reutimann 21 93 Travis Kvapil 22 87 Joe Nemechek 22 19 Mike Bliss 23 52 Brian Keselowski
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