New procedure for Daytona race qualifying
Published: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 12:08 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH - The unique qualifying format for the season-opening Daytona 500 has been given a facelift.
The front row for the race Feb. 20 will still be locked in after qualifying. Other than that, it's an all-new procedure for setting the starting lineup for the NASCAR Nextel Cup event.
Series director John Darby announced the changes Thursday, noting that the top 35 in last year's owners' points are assured a spot in the 43-car Daytona lineup. The order will be determined by qualifying on Feb. 13 and by twin 150-mile qualifying races on Feb. 17.
Darby said the starting order for those races, each extended by 25 miles and renamed the Gatorade Duel, will be set by qualifying. The top 35 in points will be divided between the two, with the teams finishing in odd-numbered positions in 2004 in the first race and the even-numbered finishers in the second.
Teams that didn't finish in the top 35 will make the twin lineups by virtue of their Daytona qualifying.
Starting positions in the 500-mile main event will be determined by results of the 150-milers.
Filling out the lineup will be the top two non-top-35 finishers from each of the twin events and the remaining fastest drivers from qualifying.
NASCAR previously announced it has eliminated the use of provisional starters in 2005 and will assure the current top 35 in the car-owner points of making each race. The rest of the field at events after Daytona will be filled through qualifying speeds.
The 43rd spot in the lineup will be held at each race for any former series champion who is not among the top 35 or does not make the field by through speed. At Daytona, that option probably will not be needed because all the active past champs except Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott, who are not entered, are among the top 35.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne led the way, turning in the top speeds in two weeks of testing for the season-opening Daytona 500.
Kahne, last year's top NASCAR Nextel Cup rookie, set the pace in the morning practice with a lap of 188.088 mph in an Evernham Motorsports Dodge Charger. Truex, the defending Busch series champion who will drive a limited Cup schedule in 2005 for Dale Earnhardt Inc., topped the afternoon session with a lap of 188.798 in a Chevrolet.
Prior to Thursday, the fastest lap of the preseason was 186.455, turned in a week ago by Dale Jarrett in a Robert Yates Racing Ford.
Drivers who finished in odd-numbered positions in the points last season took part in the three-day test last week, with the even-numbered positions testing for three days this week.
Kahne failed to win in his first season of Cup racing but had five runner-up finishes and was competitive throughout the year.
''Last year there were no expectations,'' Kahne said. ''Nobody really expected us to run much better than 30th, probably, at times, so that was pretty easy to run up front because people didn't expect you to run up there.
''We had a good race team, but this year we need to run up front because there will be more expectations. Last year we wanted to finish in the top 15 and win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award. We were able to do that. This year we need to run in the top 10 every week and get in that Chase for the Nextel Cup.''
The Chase, which began last year, is a 10-race showdown for the championship among the top 10 drivers in the points after the first 26 events of the season. Kahne was 12th after the 26th race last year and wound up 13th in points.
Among the other fast drivers Thursday were Jeff Green at 188.052, Rusty Wallace at 187.931, Brian Vickers at 187.903, Jimmie Johnson at 187.805, Joe Nemechek at 187.731, Scott Riggs at 187.707, Matt Kenseth at 187.680, Scott Wimmer at 187.645 and Sterling Marlin at 187.641.
Former series champion Bill Elliott, who will skip the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20 but race in the Budweiser Shootout on Feb. 12, got up to 187.496 in his first day in the Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge he will drive in the made-for-TV event for 2004 pole-winners and former Shootout champions.
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