The “official” season opener for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, may be just over a week away (Feb. 23), but front row qualifying for the event is quickly approaching. On Sunday, 49 drivers/cars are expected to hit the track to determine which two will start on the front row for what has been dubbed the “Great American Race.”
Although NASCAR recently announced a new qualifying format, the format used to set the 43-car field for the Daytona 500 remains unchanged. But Daytona 500 qualifying has been different from qualifying for the other 35 points-paying races for years. Here is a rundown of Daytona 500 qualifying procedures:
Cars will go on-track one at a time during front-row qualifying, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Each car may make up to two timed laps, with the fastest two qualifiers during the session claiming the two front row spots on the starting grid for the Feb. 23 race.
No other position on starting grid will be determined until Thursday. On Thursday night, drivers will compete in one of two Budweiser Duel races. The field of each of those races will be determined by Sunday’s qualifying. With cars ordered, from fastest to slowest, by their Sunday qualifying runs, those in odd-numbered position will compete in the first race, and those in even-numbered positions in the second.
Positions three through 32 (rows two through 16) on the Daytona 500 starting grid will be set based on Duel race speeds. The top-15 finishers, minus the two Daytona 500 front row drivers/cars, will claim positions third through 32nd on the starting grid.
After the first 32 starting spots for the Daytona 500 are set, NASCAR will revert back to Sunday qualifying laps, with positions 33 through 36 gong to the the fastest cars in front row qualifying that didn’t get into the top-32 by virtue of their Duel finishes.
Positions 37 through 42 will be provisional starting spots, based on 2013 car owner points among teams not already with spots on the starting grid at this point. The 43rd and final starting spot will then be filled by champion’s provisional, if there is a past champion not already with a spot on the starting grid. If there isn’t a past champion still not in, the final spot will be another provisional based on 2013 owner points.
Front row qualifying will be shown live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, while the Budweiser Duels will receive live television coverage from FOX Sports 1, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.