New format for Daytona 500 qualifying

Daytona Beach, FL ( – For the first time in the 57-year
history of the Daytona 500, NASCAR will use its group qualifying format to
set the front row positions for the race and determine the starting lineups
for the Budweiser Duel twin-qualifying events.

Previously, the front row for the Daytona 500 was determined by single-car
runs in time trials. Each driver was allowed two laps in his or her qualifying

Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying will consist of three rounds, with the first
round divided into two groups based on a random draw. Drivers drawing an odd
number will be in the first group and those with an even number in the second
group. The first round is five minutes for each group, and the 24 fastest cars
from that segment will advance into the second round.

Following a 10-minute break, the second round will be five minutes with the
fastest 12 drivers advancing to the third and final segment. A seven-minute
break will precede the third, which will last five minutes. The top-two
finishers in qualifying will make up the front row for the Daytona 500, which
is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Starting positions 3-43 for the Daytona 500 will be determine in next
Thursday’s Budweiser Duel, which for the second year in a row will take place
at nighttime.

Last year, NASCAR used a new knockout-style qualifying format for Sprint Cup,
which began with the second race of the season, held at Phoenix the weekend
after the Daytona 500.

When the series ran its most recent restrictor-plate race in October at
Talladega, the group qualifying format was used for the first time. In a
chaotic and confusing qualifying session for that race, Chase drivers Kyle
Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano had to take a
provisional (owner points) position in the starting field. Ricky Stenhouse
Jr., the 2013 rookie of the year in the series, failed to qualify.

So it’s no surprise that drivers and teams are concerned about group
qualifying for the Daytona 500.

“Yeah, I am worried about qualifying,” said Stewart-Haas Racing driver Danica
Patrick, who won the Daytona 500 pole two years ago. “It didn’t go well at
Talladega (qualifying 27th), and I don’t see how it’s going to go any
different here at Daytona, especially since at Talladega (competitors) saw how
little time we had left in the five-minute session, and they waited even
longer (before getting on the track).

“You would have thought they would have just gotten a big group and just
hauled butt and all been faster than most of us in the first group, but they
didn’t. I don’t have any reason to think it’s going to be a lot different
other than maybe people will be a lot more encouraged to work together and to
stick with the plan. Other than that, luck of the draw.”

Some drivers, like Hamlin, feel the Daytona 500 has now become a series of

“It’s a bunch of races. It really is,” he said. “Now that single-car
qualifying is gone, you’re probably going to see more wrecks in practice
because people are going to be trying that strategy of running a fast lap and
seeing what it takes to run that fast lap, so you’re going to have guys
running caution speed and real speed all on the same track in a green
condition. I don’t know. Somebody is going to make a mistake for sure.”

Forty-eight teams are currently on the entry list for the Daytona 500. Two
practice sessions for qualifying — each session two hours in length — are
scheduled for Saturday.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Feb. 15. Race: Daytona 500
Qualifying. Site: Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile oval. Start
time: 1:35 p.m. ET. Laps: n/a. Miles: n/a. 2014 Winner: Austin Dillon.
Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.