How To Qualify For The Daytona 500

Author’s Note: This article is intended for newer fans. Based on the amount of email I get every year asking how the field is determined for the Daytona 500, I thought I’d review the somewhat complex procedure. Long term fans may want to sit this one out.

For newer fans even how the starting line up is set for the Daytona 500 is more than a little confusing. The Byzantine qualifying set up for the Daytona 500 is used only for this race. (Even the Firecracker 400 at this same track in July uses the standard qualifying procedures.) In first round qualifying only the first row, comprised of the first and second fastest cars in Round One is set. The rest of the running order determines starting position for the Twin 125 Qualifying races, held on the Thursday prior to the race. A driver could be third fastest in first round qualifying and theoretically start the Daytona 500 in 31st place if he wrecks early in one of the 125s. (43rd if the wreck is bad enough the back up car has to come off the trailer.) There is second round qualifying as well. Any driver who elects to take a second round time loses his first round effort, and if the second round speed is slower, that is how he will be ranked. In years past there was third round qualifying but third round was dropped in 1999.

Drivers line up for the Twin 125s in the order they qualified. The first 125 features the pole winner for the Daytona 500, with the 3rd fastest driver starting second, the fifth fastest driver starting third etc. (In other words all who qualified in an odd numbered position.) The pole sitter for the second 125 is the driver who is on the outside pole for the Daytona 500. The fourth fastest qualifier starts in second position, the sixth fastest in third position etc. (All those drivers who qualified in an even numbered position.) In the event qualifying is rained out and can not be run prior to Thursday, the starting lineup for the 125s would be determined by 2003 owner (not driver) points, with new teams starting shotgun on the field.

If your favorite driver gets the pole or outside pole for the 500, starts his 125 race, quickly falls off the pace and drops into the pits don’t panic. That driver has probably decided not to risk his front row starting point by getting into a wreck that would have him have to go to a backup car and start out back of the field. The top 14 finishers in each race not already in the event (the pole sitter and outside pole sitter) get into the 500.(As long as they pass post race technical inspection of course.) NASCAR looks at which 125 had the fastest average speed. The cars in that race (Positions 1-15 or 16) start on the inside row for the 500 in the finishing order of the race. The drivers in the slower 125 start on the outside lane.

Positions 31-38 are awarded to the eight drivers not yet in the race who had the fastest speeds in qualifying.

The final five positions are based on provisionals. (This is a change from last year. Last year the final seven spots were provisionals) The provisional starting places are based on 2003 owner points. (Thus any team new to the sport this year does not have a provisional to use for the first four races of the 2004 season.) The 43rd starting place goes to any previous Winston Cup champion who attempted to make the 500 but isn’t in the show yet. In the event two or more Winston Cup champions haven’t made the race, the most recent champion gets the starting position. If no previous Winston Cup champion needs the 43rd starting spot, it goes to the next driver eligible through team provisional points. (Which again can mean a driver who wasn’t with the team in 2003 could beat out the driver who actually earned those points.)

Clear as mud, right? Hey, I’m just telling you how it works. I didn’t design the system.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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