Daytona 500: Round one preview

Gatorade Duel At Daytona To Set Daytona 500 Field *Johnson In Pursuit Of Third Consecutive Series Title *In The Loop: Big Names Do Well At Daytona Johnson, Waltrip Out Front For Thursday's Gatorade Duel At Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb....

Gatorade Duel At Daytona To Set Daytona 500 Field
*Johnson In Pursuit Of Third Consecutive Series Title
*In The Loop: Big Names Do Well At Daytona

Johnson, Waltrip Out Front For Thursday's Gatorade Duel At Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2008) -- Reigning and two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) will begin his 2008 season where he ended 2007 -- at the front of the field.

Last Sunday, Johnson captured the pole for the 50th annual Daytona 500. He's joined on the front row by Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Toyota), who clinched the outside pole.

That means Sunday's milestone event will begin with a pair of former Daytona 500 champions leading the way. Johnson won the '06 event, while Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 champion ('01 and '03).

"I just couldn't be more proud of my crew guys and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for not losing anything over the off-season," Johnson said.

Now, on to Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona -- the two 150-mile qualifying races that set the rest of the Daytona 500 field. The top 35 in the previous season's owner point standings are guaranteed starting spots. The top two "non-35" finishers in each Duel make the field, along with -- if applicable -- the most recent series champion who's "non-35" eligible.

The Fastest: Jimmie Johnson, right, and Michael Waltrip, left, start 1-2 in Sunday's Daytona 500.

History In The Making: 50th Daytona 500 Leads List Of Storylines

History -- homage to the past and anticipation of what might be -- is the theme as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams prepare for the 50th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway. Three wide: The finish of the first Daytona 500, won by Lee Petty, in February 1959.

As NASCAR also celebrates its 60th season, begin at the top: Reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson pursues his third consecutive title, a feat accomplished by only one other driver, Cale Yarborough from 1976-78.

NASCAR's new car, which incorporates safety innovations, is set for its first fulltime season and its first event at Daytona. It's also expected to offer teams cost savings and to boost competition.

Fresh off last Saturday's victory in the non-points Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, the sport's most popular driver -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Amp Energy-National Guard Chevrolet) -- begins his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.

And an unprecedented quartet of former open-wheel stars begin their NASCAR Sprint Cup careers -- Dario Franchitti (No. 40 Dodge Journey Dodge, Jacques Villeneuve (No. 27 Bill Davis Racing Toyota) , Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) and Patrick Carpentier (No. 10 Valvoline Dodge).

It All Adds Up: Gatorade Duel At Daytona Sets Sunday's Stage ...

With Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip starting first and second, respectively, in Sunday's Daytona 500, the rest of the field takes shape on Thursday.

That's when two 150-mile qualifying races, collectively called the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, take place at Daytona International Speedway, beginning at 2 p.m. (ET) and televised by SPEED. The finish of both races helps to determine Sunday's starting lineup.

What's obvious: Johnson starts first with the second Daytona 500 pole of his career (the first came in '02, his rookie season). Waltrip starts second, his first front-row Daytona 500 start.

What's next: Johnson also starts first in Thursday's first qualifying race. Waltrip starts first in the second race.

What it takes: The top 35 drivers in last season's final owner point standings are guaranteed Daytona 500 berths. So are the three fastest "non-35" drivers from last Sunday's Pole Day and 2004 series champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who can use the past series champion's provisional berth. (One of those three-fastest spots has already been claimed by Waltrip.)

Four other berths are awarded to the two highest-finishing "non-35" drivers in each Duel race. Seventeen "non-35" drivers are vying for those four spots.

Past Champions: The past champion's provisional goes to the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. If Busch races his way into the Daytona 500, it falls to Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota), the 1999 series champion. If Busch and Jarrett succeed, the provisional berth goes to Bill Elliott (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford), the 1988 series champion.

If you're wondering why Busch needs to "race" his way into the 500, here's the reason: Penske Racing transferred Busch's '07 top-35 points to rookie teammate Sam Hornish Jr. because the previous season's top 35 in owner points are guaranteed starting spots through the first five events of the next season.

... While Pole Day Set The Lineups For Thursday's Qualifying Races

Where a driver starts in the season-opening Daytona 500 is the result of a competitive countdown -- a process that begins the previous Sunday, and ends the Thursday prior to the race.

Here, then, a quick primer:

Pole Day: The round of qualifying that takes place on the Sunday prior to the Daytona 500. The fastest car earns the pole. The second-fastest car earns the outside pole; those positions are "locked in" for the Daytona 500;

The Gatorade Duel at Daytona: Two 150-mile qualifying races on the Thursday prior to the Daytona 500 whose results determine its lineup;

The Daytona 500 pole winner starts first in Thursday's first Gatorade Duel; the outside pole winner starts first in the second Gatorade Duel;

Cars must compete in one of the qualifying races to be eligible for the Daytona 500;

Cars that finished in odd-numbered positions in the 2007 car owner standings compete in the first qualifying race;

Cars that finished in even-numbered positions in the '07 car owner standings compete in the second qualifying race;

Cars that weren't in the final '07 car owner standings are alternated between the two qualifying races using an odd-even format.

In The Loop: Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart and Johnson Excel At Daytona

Last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway may have given hints of what to look for in Sunday's Daytona 500.

First, the new car is likely to give a competitive boost to the historic race. A total of 64 Green Flag Passes for the lead took place Saturday. That blew away last year's total of 29, and far exceeded the 2006 total of 48. More of the same should happen Sunday.

Second, Saturday's prime-time players likely will enjoy similar roles Sunday, according to Daytona pre-race Loop Data suggests.

Last Saturday, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Dept Chevrolet) were all threats to win. Earnhardt eventually did.

On Sunday, those four should again run up front. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, those four drivers have excelled at DIS.

Stewart has the best pre-race stats of the bunch. Still looking for his first Daytona 500 victory, Stewart has a series-best Driver Rating of 109.0, an Average Running Position of 12.9 (fourth-best), 32 Fastest Laps Run (third-most) and 746 Laps in the Top 15 (68.6%).

Johnson, the 2006 Daytona 500 winner, has a Driver Rating of 98.1 (second), a series-best Average Running Position of 9.0 and a series-high 857 Laps in the Top 15 (78.8%).

Gordon, with three Daytona 500 wins, has a Driver Rating of 93.1 (sixth), an Average Running Position of 12.4 (third), an average Green Flag Speed of 185.108 mph (sixth) and 739 Fastest Laps Run (sixth).

Earnhardt, the 2004 Daytona 500 champion, has a Driver Rating of 82.8 (13th), an Average Running Position of 16.4 (12th), 28 Fastest Laps Run (fifth) and 644 Laps in the Top 15 (ninth).

Two wild cards who would normally be battling for a short-track win rather than a restrictor- plate one are Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) and Kurt Busch.

Busch has the third-best Driver Rating at 96.8 and Kenseth has a Driver Rating of 94.1.

Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is another driver to watch. With a fourth-best Driver Rating of 96.6, Newman should contend for his first win since September of 2005.

The Now Car: NASCAR's New Race Car Ready For Fulltime Campaign

A key storyline, NASCAR's new car -- the now-generation race car -- begins its first fulltime season in 2008.

Sunday's 50th Daytona 500 marks both the new car's first event of the new year, and its first event at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams prepared for the new car's fulltime debut by running it in 16 of 36 events in 2007.

Series officials announced in May 2007 that the new car would debut fulltime one year earlier than originally scheduled (2009).

Last season, teams used the new car at all tracks less than 1.5 miles, along with the two road courses (California's Infineon Raceway and New York's Watkins Glen International), and the October event at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

This season, they'll race the new car for the first time at Daytona, California Speedway (2 miles), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles), Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.5 miles), Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles), Lowe's Motor Speedway (1.5 miles), Pocono Raceway (2.5 miles), Michigan International Speedway (2 miles), Chicagoland Speedway (1.5 miles), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5 miles) and Kansas Speedway (1.5 miles).

The culmination of a seven-year project by NASCAR's Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C., the new car offers important safety improvements, competition initiatives and cost-containment measures for teams.

The R&D Center also certifies all new-car chassis.

Teams tested new cars earlier this year at Daytona, Las Vegas and California as part of the annual preseason test schedule.

History On The Move: NASCAR'S 60th Anniversary

In a season launch filled with anniversary celebrations, note Friday's special significance -- the exact 60th anniversary of NASCAR's first official race.

On Feb. 15, 1948, drivers competed on the beach road course at Daytona, an event won by Red Byron in a Ford.

This Friday, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will open its 2008 season at Daytona International Speedway, followed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday, and, of course, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Sunday's 50th Daytona 500.

A little more than a decade after the sport's official beach debut, competitors christened the then-new Daytona International Speedway with the first Daytona 500 in February 1959. Lee Petty won that event in a photo finish.

Competitors ran eight races in that inaugural season of 1948; Byron won two and also collected two poles, all in six starts.

Of the tracks that hosted the 1948 events, only Martinsville Speedway remains on the series schedule. The shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule (at .526-mile), Martinsville -- in Martinsville, Va., -- hosts two events.

Off The Track: Special Events, Entertainment Abound for 50th Daytona 500

Always a magnet for celebrities and high-profile NASCAR fans, Daytona 500 pre-race activities are especially star-studded this year.

Behind the wheel, 1960 Daytona 500 champion Junior Johnson will lead Sunday's 50th Daytona 500 field to the green flag, driving the pace car during warm-up laps.

The 24 living Daytona 500 champions will serve as Grand Marshals, delivering the famous "Gentlemen, start your engines" command en masse Sunday.

Seven-time series champion and seven-time Daytona 500 champion Richard Petty is the honorary starter. He'll wave the green flag to start Sunday's race.

The award-winning country-music duo Brooks & Dunn will headline Sunday's pre-race show. Chubby Checker, Michael McDonald and Kool & The Gang are other musical icons scheduled for performances.

Each will perform one or more of their most memorable songs to commemorate musical eras spanned by the 50th Daytona 500.

They'll be accompanied by nearly 4,000 cast members on the track's tri-oval grass, along the frontstretch.

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the "Thunderbirds" will perform the traditional flyover during Sunday's rendition of the National Anthem.

Prior to Sunday, three-time series champion and 1989 Daytona 500 champion Darrell Waltrip will serve as Grand Marshal for Thursday's two 150-mile qualifying races -- the Gatorade Duel at Daytona.

NSCS, Etc.

Raybestos Rookie Lineup ... Six NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will contend for the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. They are Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr., Michael McDowell, Regan Smith and Jacques Villeneuve.

Carpentier, Franchitti, Hornish and Villeneuve all are former open-wheel stars transitioning to stock cars. Franchitti, the reigning Indy Racing League champion, Hornish and Villeneuve are former Indianapolis 500 champions.

McDowell, 24, will take over the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota following the season's fifth race, when Michael Waltrip Racing teammate David Reutimann steps out of it to replace the retiring Dale Jarrett in the No. 44 UPS Toyota.

Smith, 25, begins his first fulltime season in Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s No. 01 Principal Financial Group Chevrolet. He ran seven races on a part-time basis last season.

Up Next: The Auto Club 500 at California Speedway

Following Sunday's Daytona 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup teams head for California Speedway and the West Coast version of NASCAR's 2008 Season Launch.

Matt Kenseth is the early favorite for the Auto Club 500 on Sunday, Feb. 25, and for good reason. He'll seek a third consecutive victory in California's February event.

Jeff Gordon is the event's defending pole winner.

California Speedway  --  located 50 miles east of Los Angeles, the nation's
second-largest media market  --  marks its 12th season this year.

Fast Facts

The Race: Daytona 500
The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Sunday, Feb. 17
The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 500 miles/200 laps

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Kevin Harvick
2007 Polesitter: David Gilliland

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

-credit: nascar

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Michael McDowell , David Reutimann , Regan Smith , Junior Johnson , David Gilliland , Cale Yarborough , Sam Hornish Jr. , Lee Petty
Teams Team Penske , Michael Waltrip Racing , Bill Davis Racing