Running the Daytona 500 qualifying races in prime time
For the first time in its 56-year history, the twin qualifying races for the Daytona 500 -- now known as the Budweiser Duel -- will run at nighttime.
The qualifiers have traditionally been held on the Thursday afternoon prior to the Daytona 500. It's now the third NASCAR event to be run under the lights during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, joining The Sprint Unlimited preseason race and the Camping World Truck Series season-opener.
"There's always more grip with night racing, and with more grip, drivers are able to push a little bit harder than during the day," said Kevin Harvick, who won the first race in the Duel last year. "It's definitely going to be aggressive racing, and it should be a lot of fun."
The Budweiser Duel will determine the starting lineup beyond the front row for this Sunday's Daytona 500. This past weekend, rookie Austin Dillon put the No. 3 car -- a car number made famous by Dale Earnhardt -- on the pole for NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. It's the first time the 3 has been on the track in NASCAR's top series since Earnhardt's fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Martin Truex Jr. will share the front row with Dillon after finishing second in time trials. They are the only drivers who have secured their starting positions for the 500-mile race.
The starting spots for each of the two qualifying races was determined in time trials. Drivers who finished in the odd-numbered positions were assigned to the first race, while drivers who finished in the even-numbered positions were placed in the final event. Dillon will start first in the 25-car field for the first Duel, while Truex will lead a field of 24 cars in the second Duel.
The top-15 finishers in each Duel race -- not including Dillon or Truex -- will fill positions 3-32 in the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. The top-15 finishers in the first race will make up the inside row (odd-number starting positions), while those who finish 1-15 in the second event will line up on the second row (even-number starting spots).
Starting positions 33-36 will go to those drivers who did not finish in the top-15 in their respective qualifying races but were among the top speeds during time trials. Spots 37-42 will go to the top-six cars in the 2013 Sprint Cup owner point standings that are not already locked in. The 43rd and final position is reserved for the most recent past series champion. If there is no eligible past champion, that spot will revert back to last year's owner points.
In addition to Dillon and Truex, 11 other drivers are guaranteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500, no matter where they finish in the Budweiser Duel.
Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski are locked in based on their speeds in time trials. Biffle posted the third fastest qualifying lap, followed by Edwards, Newman and Keselowski.
Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer have a spot reserved in Sunday's race by virtue of last year's owner points.
Tony Stewart, who missed the final 15 races last year due to a leg injury, is locked in since he is the most recent past champion (2011).
Kurt Busch, Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte need to race their way in during the Duel, but any one of those drivers could use a past champions provisional if not used.
Six of the 49 drivers competing in the Budweiser Duel will fail to qualify for the Daytona 500.
Cole Whitt, Michael McDowell, Morgan Shepherd and Dave Blaney have to finish among the top-15 in their qualifying race in order to make the 500.
Wednesday's practice for the Budweiser Duel featured a four-car incident in the opening minutes and then a frightening seven-car crash on the frontstretch shortly after. Rookie Parker Kligerman slid on his roof down the frontstretch after he made contact with Paul Menard. Kligerman's car went on top of Menard's vehicle and then plowed into the SAFER barrier and catchfence before it rolled over onto its roof. No drivers or spectators in the grandstands were injured.
In all, eight cars suffered damage during practice. Joey Logano, Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Blaney, Kligerman and Menard will use backup cars and have to start from the rear of the field in the Duel.
After multiple accidents in Wednesday's practice and in last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited, the qualifying races could be a wild affair under the lights.
"Everybody has an agenda to save their race car and to be smart," Johnson said. "We really don't see big crashes and multiple-car incidents in the Duels. We're counting on that. When the green falls, we're going to go racing. We just need to make smart decisions and hope we get through the race with a good, straight race car."
Johnson wrecked early in The Sprint Unlimited.
"When you get through the Unlimited and you have a straight race car sitting there, you're much more relaxed and can have fun and forget about things," he said. "But it will be weighing on my mind the whole [qualifying] race that we could lose that car and put ourselves in a big hole for the 500."
Johnson won his second Daytona 500 and his sixth Sprint Cup championship in 2013.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Thursday, Feb. 21. Race: Budweiser Duel (Daytona 500 twin qualifiers). Site: Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval. Start time: 7 p.m. ET. Laps: 60 (each qualifier). Miles: 150. 2012 Winners: Kevin Harvick (race 1), Kyle Busch (race 2). Television: FOX Sports 1. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.