DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The question on everyone’s mind following Saturday night’s Bud Shootout was: Will today’s 150-mile Gatorade Duels qualifying races and Sunday’s Daytona 500 be just as wild?
“I feel like things are going to calm down vs. what we saw in the Shootout as we get into the week,” five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. “The Shootout, without any points (on) the line and everybody so charged up, everybody was willing to take chances; and a lot of them.
“The 500, there will be some issues and things like that will pop up early and midway through the race, but I think everybody will be relatively well-behaved. Then we will get to the end, and then really put on a show for everybody.”
The first qualifying race starts at 2 p.m. today.
Although there were two spins Wednesday in practice, most know there’s too much to lose in the qualifying races. A big crash means moving to a backup car – and the back of the starting lineup.
Johnson reminded everyone there’s a reason teams have a primary and backup car.
“I think we are going to have an exciting Daytona 500,” he said. “I want to use this race car in the Daytona 500. I don’t want to lose it in practice or in the Duel.”
One driver already going to a backup is Kasey Kahne. He was tapped by Juan Pablo Montoya in the late afternoon sessions which sent him plowing through the infield grass.
Kahne’s Hendrick Motorsports is so concerned about what they’ve seen so far, he said more cars might be shipped in from Charlotte, N.C.
“The problem is we still have the 150s and a couple more practices,” Kahne said. “We haven’t gotten off to a real good start yet.”
The field of 49 will be divided into two races. Carl Edwards, who won the Daytona 500 pole Sunday, will be on the pole for the first qualifying race. Greg Biffle, who will start second Sunday, will be on the pole for the second race.
Edwards and Biffle are assured of starting on the front row for the Daytona 500. Everyone else will have to earn their spots.
The top 35 teams from last year are guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. Two more drivers not from the top 35 will qualify from each race. Three spots will go to the three fastest speeds who aren’t in the top 35. The final spot will go to either Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott as a past champion, or the four-fastest leftover speed from time trials.
A wreck today will either send a team home or create a lot of extra work for the crews.
“Hopefully we will not have to pull out a back-up. You would love to win that (qualifying) race and make a statement going into the 500,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
New rules have created the return of pack racing – cars running two– and three-wide and six rows deep. While that adds more passing and excitement, it also creates a bigger threat of a multi-car accident. Of the 25 cars that started the Bud Shootout on Saturday, only four finished without damage.
One of those was Tony Stewart’s. He hopes to avoid trouble again today.
“I think we’ve got a really good car for Sunday, so you want to get the best finishing position you can in the Shootout without beating up the race car,” he said. “So, we’re going to try to do everything we can to (not) put ourselves in bad situations. But when it comes to the end of the race tomorrow, we’ll push really hard to see how far up we can get and try to get a good spot, but I guess the biggest variable in the equation is just don’t hurt the car that we’ve got.”