Daytona 500: News of note, schedule

* Gatorade Duel at Daytona Sets The Grid * Montoya Ahead Of Adaptation Curve * Marlin Is In; Four Other Former Champs Still Feeling Pressure News and Notes: 'Duelality:' Qualifying Races To Set Daytona 500 Starting Grid Thursday's...

* Gatorade Duel at Daytona Sets The Grid

* Montoya Ahead Of Adaptation Curve

* Marlin Is In; Four Other Former Champs Still Feeling Pressure

News and Notes:

'Duelality:' Qualifying Races To Set Daytona 500 Starting Grid

Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona (2 p.m., ET; televised by SPEED) consists of two 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500.

Going into Thursday, here's what we know:

Thirty-nine drivers are already guaranteed starting spots -- the top 35 from last year's season-ending car owner point standings, the three fastest "non-35s" from Budweiser Pole Day this past Sunday and Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota), who can rely on the past series champion's provisional berth.

That leaves four Daytona 500 spots open for non-35s. Those will be filled by the two highest-finishing non-35s in each Duel race. If Jarrett is one of those, then the past champion's berth would go to Bill Elliott if he needs it.

A total of 22 non-35s are chasing those four precious spots. That on-edge group includes the four former 500 champions who collectively account for six 500 wins. The group has won 63 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races.

Daytona 500 Qualifying: A Primer

The Daytona 500 qualifying procedure is the most unique in auto racing.

It features two components:

Budweiser Pole Day
The Gatorade Duel at Daytona

Budweiser Pole Day: This "locks in" the first two positions -- the front row -- for the Daytona 500. It also establishes the starting orders for the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, which are two 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500.

* The fastest car earns the pole for the Daytona 500 AND the pole for the first Gatorade Duel race.

* The second-fastest car earns the outside pole for the Daytona 500 AND the pole for the second Gatorade Duel race.

The Gatorade Duel at Daytona: These two 150-mile qualifying races set positions 3-39 for the Daytona 500.

* A combined total of 66 cars will be allowed into the two Gatorade Duel races.

* Cars must compete in one of the Gatorade Duel races, in order to race in the Daytona 500.

* Odd-number finishers in the final 2006 car owner point standings (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) are in the first Gatorade Duel race.

* Even-number finishers in the final 2006 car owner point standings (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) are in the second Gatorade Duel race.

* Additional qualified cars that weren't in the final 2006 top 35 car owner points are alternated between the two Gatorade Duel fields using an odd-even format.

Setting the Daytona 500 field:

* Cars that finished in the top 35 in the 2006 car owner point standings automatically make the Daytona 500 field.

* The top two starting positions are determined by Budweiser Pole Day qualifying speeds.

* Positions 3-39 are determined by finishing orders in the Gatorade Duel races.

* The final four spots in the 43-car field will be based on Budweiser Pole Day qualifying speeds of cars that have not already earned a starting position. However, if there is an eligible NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series past champion entered who has not already qualified, that past champion will receive the 43rd and final position. If there is more than one past champion eligible for this berth, it goes to the most recent champion.

In The Loop: Data Demonstrates Just Why Stewart Is On A Roll At Daytona

During one of his many interviews during last week's Media Day, Tony Stewart gave the assembled throng of reporters an idea of how bad he wants to win the Daytona 500: "I would be willing to absolutely destroy my car to win the 500, if that's what it takes on the last lap. I don't care if I have to slide upside down across the finish line as long as we are leading."

Here's some good news for Stewart: the Loop Data is in his favor.

Stewart, who has won the last two Pepsi 400s at Daytona International Speedway but has failed to get over the Daytona 500 hump, dominates the all-important Driver Rating statistic with a 127.5 rating compiled from 2005 and 2006 races at DIS.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), the defending Daytona 500 champion, sits second with a 106.2 rating.

Beyond that, it's practically all Stewart, all the time. The Loop Data numbers from Daytona speak for themselves. The two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion has:

* The top Average Running Position of 5.793
* The fourth-highest number of Fast Laps with 21
* The Fastest Green Flag Speed
* The highest number of Laps Led (364; second place belongs to Jeff Gordon with 57)
* The Fastest Speed in Traffic.

Also, considering that quick speeds in Daytona's pivotal turns often lead to victory, Stewart's stats in those categories give one more reason why he has an excellent chance of taking home the coveted trophy. Stewart leads the Fastest Speed in Turn 2, Turn 3 and Turn 4 categories.

If not Stewart, look for Johnson to make a strong bid for a repeat Daytona 500 win.

Besides owning the second best Driver Rating, Johnson places second in Average Running Position with a 6.044 mark. The reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion ranks in the Top 5 in a number of categories including:

* Fastest Driver Late in a Run (1st)
* Fastest Driver in Turn 2 (2nd), Turn 3 (2nd) and Turn 4 (3rd)
* Fastest Green Flag Speed (5th)
* Laps In Top 15 (First with 668 laps)
* Quality Passes (3rd with 583) #* Speed in Traffic (2nd)

One driver who has had surprising difficulty negotiating Daytona's 2.5-mile tri-oval is Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge).

Despite a series-high six wins last season, Kahne could only muster finishes of 11th and 25th at Daytona. Over the past four Daytona races, Kahne has a Driver Rating of 75.3 (17th best) and an Average Running Position of 19.931.

If Kahne hopes to improve at Daytona, he'll have to improve his speeds in the turns: he ranks 18th in Turn 2 and 23rd in Turn 3.

Montoya The Favorite But By No Means A Lock, in Rookie Competition

Juan Pablo Montoya is the marquee name in this year's Raybestos Rookie of Year class -- both in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series. Yes, the former Indy 500 champion plans to compete for both rookie titles, although he won't be running a full-time schedule in the NASCAR Busch Series.

At right, this year's "ROY" candidates in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup are listed, along with their Daytona 500 qualifying status after Budweiser Pole Day and heading into Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona.

<pre> Driver Car 500 Status AJ Allmendinger No. 84 Red Bull Toyota Qualified 38th/Starts 20th in 1st Duel race Paul Menard No. 15 Menards/PEAK Chevrolet Qualified 31st/Starts 15th in 2nd Duel race *Juan Pablo Montoya No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Qualified 4th/Starts 3rd in 2nd Duel race *David Ragan No. 6 AAA Ford Qualified 5th/Starts 2nd in 1st Duel race David Reutimann No. 00 Domino's Toyota Qualified 14th/Starts 7th in 2nd Duel race Brandon Whitt No. 72 Dutch Quality Chevrolet Qualified 56th/Starts 30th in 1st Duel race

* Denotes drivers that have already secured Daytona 500 spots, via their pole day speeds.

</pre>

NNCS, Etc.

Toyota-driving David Reutimann got people's attention on Budweiser Pole Day, nearly securing a spot in the Daytona 500 via his qualifying effort. Reutimann came up just short; he was the fourth-fastest among drivers not locked into the 500 via top-35 finishes in last year's car owner points. The top three "non-35s" assured themselves spots. ... Reutimann is one of 28 drivers hoping to run both the Daytona 500 AND Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series season-opener, the Orbitz 300. Others planning a weekend doubleheader include Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne -- all who qualified last year for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. ... NASCAR announced this week a list of the "5 Greatest Upsets in Daytona 500 History," a list topped by Derrike Cope's 1990 victory that came about when race leader Dale Earnhardt got a flat tired on the last lap. The series started with Upset No. 5, Pete Hamilton's 1970 win, followed by Mario Andretti in 1967 at No. 4; Ward Burton in 2002 at No. 3; and Tiny Lund in 1963 at No. 2. .. Releases for each upset, accompanied by photos and podcasts, are available at NASCARMedia.com.

Four Crew Chiefs Suspended, Starting with Daytona 500

NASCAR announced Tuesday that four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series crew chiefs have been suspended from competition, starting with the Daytona 500.

Two of the four -- Ken Francis, crew chief for the No. 9 Dodge driven by Kasey Kahne; and Robbie Reiser, crew chief for the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth -- have been suspended for four races and fined $50,000. Also, Kahne and Kenseth were penalized with the loss of 50 driver championship points while their car owners, Ray Evernham and Jack Roush, were penalized 50 car owner championship points.

The violations by the No. 9 and No. 17 teams were found during post-qualifying inspection on Feb. 11. Both teams' qualifying times were disallowed.

Two others -- Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 10 Dodge driven by Scott Riggs; and Josh Browne, crew chief for the No. 19 Dodge driven by Elliott Sadler -- have been suspended for two races and fined $25,000. In addition, Riggs and Sadler were penalized 25 driver championship points while their car owners, James Rocco and Evernham, were penalized 25 car owner championship points.

The violations by the No. 10 and No. 19 teams were found prior to qualifying.

In each instance the violations were of Sections 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing), 12-4-Q (car, car parts components and/or equipment not conforming to NASCAR rules) and 20-2.1E (unapproved aerodynamic modification) of the series rule book.

On Deck: Season Launch Continues At California Speedway

NASCAR's 2007 Season Launch heads to the nation's second-largest market next week, for the Auto Club 500 on Sunday, Feb. 25 at California Speedway. The Fontana, Calif. 2-mile oval is located 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Matt Kenseth won last year's Auto Club 500, which gave him early-season momentum that led to his qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup for the third consecutive season.

***

The Race: 49th Annual Daytona 500

The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Feb. 18

The Time: 3:15 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 2 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval
Distance: 500 miles (200 laps)

Purse: $18,391,423

2006 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2006 Pole: Jeff Burton

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule:
Wednesday -- Practice, 12-12:55 p.m. and 2:05-2:55 p.m.
Thursday -- Gatorade Duel at Daytona, 2 p.m.
Friday -- Practice, 1:40-2:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Final Practice, 10:35-11:55 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya