How Does Daytona 500 Qualifying Work?
The Daytona 500 is marked as NASCAR’s most important and prestigious annual race, and a win can define a driver’s career. However, not just any racer can compete in this highly coveted race, as they have to qualify to be a part of the extremely talented field. One of the reasons that winning the Daytona 500 is so impressive is that qualifying for the race is a huge challenge itself. Read on to learn more about the process of qualifying for the most illustrious race in NASCAR.
Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying
Drivers qualify for the Daytona 500 by setting lap times in a qualifying session and then competing in one of two Duels races to set the field. On the Tuesday before the Sunday race, a random draw is used to determine the order that the Cup Series cars leave pit road for the qualifying round on Wednesday. The drivers who finished top 20 in owner points in the previous season receive the last 20 spots in the qualifying.
In the Wednesday qualifying session, each competitor is timed as they drive two laps around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. The two fastest racers secure the top two spots for the real race, which puts them in the front row. The rest of the drivers compete in the twin Duels the next day to determine the rest of the starting lineup for the big race. The starting order of the twin Duels is determined by where drivers finish in the Wednesday qualifying session.
Duels at Daytona
The Duels at Daytona are very important in determining who qualifies for the 500, as well as the order. The racers who don’t officially qualify for the race at the Wednesday qualifying round participate in the Duels the following day. The drivers who finish in an odd-numbered position race in Duel 1, and the racers who get an even-numbered position participate in Duel 2.
Held on the Thursday before the Daytona 500, the Duels at Daytona are a pair of races that each consist of 60 laps that total 150 miles. The results of the first duel race determine the inner row for the Daytona 500, and the results of the second duel race determine the outer row. The top 10 finishers in each duel race are awarded driver points that can earn them entry to the playoffs. The winner receives 10 points, second place gets nine points, and so on.
Qualifying for Non-Chartered Teams
Chartered teams earn a guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500, which means 36 drivers simply compete to determine their starting position for the big race. However, the 500 consists of 40 cars, which means four non-chartered teams can make the cut if they have a successful qualifying.
The four spots for non-chartered teams are distributed through the following process:
- The two fastest non-chartered drivers from the qualifying round automatically punch a ticket to the 500.
- The other non-charted cars move onto the Thursday Duels.
- The two fastest non-chartered Duels performers make the Daytona 500.
Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
The Daytona 500 starting lineup is determined by the results of the Wednesday qualifying and the Thursday Bluegreen Vacation Duels. The racers in the front of the lineup receive a natural advantage, but the race is 500 miles, so drivers have plenty of distance to overtake each other. For example, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the race in 2023, even though he was 31st in the 40-racer starting lineup.