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NASCAR for Beginners - Daytona 500 Qualifying

By Adam Carabine

If you’re newer to NASCAR, learning the ins and outs of the sport can seem overwhelming at times.  This series is designed to help out with some of the complicated parts that come along with watching and enjoying NASCAR. 

This week, let’s take a look at Qualifying for the Daytona 500, which has a different procedure than any other race throughout the NASCAR season.

The Cup Series has a field limit of 40 cars per race.  Regardless of where they qualify, there are also 36 regular full-time entries guaranteed to make each race, which are referred to as charters. For some prestigious events such as the Daytona 500, you may have more entries than spots available on the track, and therefore you may have some entries that fail to qualify for the big race.

The Daytona 500 starts with a single-car qualifying session - this takes place on the Wednesday evening before race day.  Every single entry (including both charters and open entries) will take a lap around Daytona.  The 10 fastest will then move on to a second round of qualifying, where they get another chance to set the fastest lap they can.

Whoever runs the fastest lap in that second round will be crowned the pole-sitter for the Daytona 500.  The second-fastest will start beside them on the front row.  

The remaining drivers who did not finish in the top-2 will then compete in the “Bluegreen Vacation Duels,” which will take place on Thursday night.  The cars are separated into two fields.  One duel features all of the cars who qualified in EVEN positions, and the other one has all of the ODD positioned qualifiers.  

The duel races are each 60 laps (150 miles), and finishing positions will help to set the final Daytona 500 starting grid.  Even though the top two qualifiers from Wednesday night are locked into the front row, there is reason for them to join in the duels as well, as the top 10 finishing positions also receive points (10 pts for 1st, 9 for 2nd, etc.).  

Other than the two who are locked into the front row, one duel sets the starting order of the INSIDE line, while the other one will set the order for the OUTSIDE line.  

Because the 36 charters are guaranteed their spot in the Daytona 500, things get a little trickier for the “open” cars.  The highest finishing open car in each duel will earn a spot in the big race (bringing the field up to 38 cars, and leaving two more open spots).

The final two spots go to the two open cars who have yet to qualify, and were the fastest at Wednesday’s qualifying session.  This rounds out the field to 40, and unfortunately for the rest of the entries, their Daytona adventure is done here.  

It might seem confusing, and maybe overly complicated just to set the lineup for the biggest race of the year, but it’s also an opportunity for fans to get their first look at their favourite teams and drivers.  


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