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How to Make the Field | Duel Lineups: Race 1, Race 2 | Thursday's Practice Speeds: Busch-Final | Truck-Final

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ask any driver in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series which is the one race that they want to win and the majority will say the same thing; The Daytona 500.

58 teams descended upon Daytona International Speedway last Saturday with the hopes of winning the sport’s most prestigious race.

Unfortunately for 15 teams, their dream will end later today with the conclusion of the Gatorade Duels at Daytona. So far, 39 teams have assured themselves a spot in the Daytona 500 by virtue of one of three possible scenarios; Being in the top-35 of the owner points standings (as of the end of the 2005 season), being one of the three fastest in qualifying (which were Bill Elliott, Travis Kvapil and Hermie Sadler), or being a previous NEXTEL Cup Champion and using a provisional (which in this case is Terry Labonte).

Each one of today’s Duels will qualify two additional teams to conclude the starting field for Sunday’s race while also dismissing the remaining teams who will not be take part in the event.

One driver who knows just how painful today can be is Robby Gordon. The driver of the No. 7 Jim Beam Chevrolet was within one lap of a starting position in last year’s Gatorade Duels, only to lose out and have to watch the 2005 Daytona 500 from the sidelines.

As another tense day is set to begin for Gordon and his team, he would rather look forward than look back to last year’s disappointing Speedweeks.

"I would rather not talk about last year because last year is over with, today is the most important thing. We were 14th and 7th in (yesterday's) two practices, not that that means anything either.

"I finished seventh in the 150’s last year and I went home, that shows you how competitive NEXTEL Cup racing is."

Entering his second season with his own race team, Gordon has a much easier path into this year’s 500. Because of his fourth fastest qualifying speed amongst non top-35 teams, should any one of the three drivers who are in on speed (Elliott, Sadler or Kvapil) or the driver using the champions provisional (Labonte) finish first or second amongst those not qualified for the race in their respective Duel, Gordon would have an automatic starting spot in the 48th running of the "Great American Race."

Even with those opportunities to qualify, Gordon wants to control his own destiny by finishing first amongst those not qualified in his Duel to ensure his spot.

"Being in the second race is a little bit comforting, but I think our car is fast anyways so we’ll do the best job we can.

"This is kind of what sets the stage for the year, and I know how hard my guys have worked on our superspeedway program. If you look at it, .04 is the difference between us being in or not being in right now."

Not only will he be using his past experience as a guide in today’s qualifying races, but also a new powerplant in his Chevrolet as he made the switch from last year’s Menard’s Engine to engines from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"I think our superspeedway program was okay last year. But DEI engines are obviously good, and we are pleased with the reliability of them. I think we will be okay. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior was pretty quick in both (of yesterday’s practice) sessions, I was top 14 in both sessions, so I feel confident in their ability to build reliable, competitive engines. If I could have, maybe not all the same tools as Dale Jr., but at least the same engine package or something similar as (DEI) then all the best for us and let’s capitalize on it."

Other drivers in Gordon’s predicament include; Kevin Lepage, Paul Menard, Larry Foyt, Randy LaJoie, Derrike Cope, Mike Skinner, Chad Chaffin, Larry Gunselman, Andy Belmont, Kirk Shelmerdine, Stanton Barrett, Scott Wimmer, Morgan Shepherd, Mike Wallace, Chad Blount, Kenny Wallace, Scott Riggs and Carl Long.

        

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