Daytona qualifier today is important

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Few days, if any, are any easier for a driver than today’s qualifying session for the Daytona 500. And none are more important.

The only work required today of all 49 drivers entered in the 500 is to drive two hot laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Counting warm-up and a cool-down laps, their job will be done in less than five minutes.

For the rest of the race team, that time will tell if months of preparation were good enough to win the pole for next Sunday’s race. For others, it may help determine whether they’ll even be in the race.

Qualifying will start at 1 p.m.

The top 35 teams from last year’s standings have an automatic spot in the Daytona 500. The other 14 teams can make it one of three ways: win the pole or outside pole today; be one of the two highest-finishing drivers among the 14 in one of two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday; or have one of the two fastest qualifying speeds among those who still haven’t qualified.

No matter what, six will go home – and miss a minimum payday of at least $250,000.

Since defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne drove a limited schedule a year ago, he’s not in the top 35 and must race his way into the main event. He figures his best chance is today, either with the pole or posting one of the two-fastest speeds among the go-or-go-homers.

“I think our car is going to be fast, so I’m not really that worried about,” he said. “We qualified in the top 10, I think, at every restrictor plate race last year – qualified third here, we qualified second in the summer race here – but teams work on their cars. I’d like to be on the front row and just be locked into that starting spot would be cool.”

Bayne’s No. 21 Ford was fourth-fastest in Saturday’s early practice session and second-quickest in the afternoon.

Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford was fastest in both practices. The fastest lap from either session came in the morning at 193.395 mph.

TEENAGER SIGNED: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has signed 19-year-old racing standout Kyle Larson to a developmental contract, putting him on the path to a potential future in the Sprint Cup Series.

He won a total of 22 major professional feature races last season.

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