Twin 125-mile qualifiers key part of Daytona 500 qualifying process DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2004) -- The lure of the Gatorade 125s is undeniable, for those competitors involved in the chase for Daytona 500 glory. It's also...
Twin 125-mile qualifiers key part of Daytona 500 qualifying process
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2004) -- The lure of the Gatorade 125s is undeniable, for those competitors involved in the chase for Daytona 500 glory.
It's also inescapable, for those watching the twin stock-car dramas unfold on Daytona International Speedway's high-speed high-banks.
The "Twin 125s," as they're commonly known, have evolved through the years into sizzling set-ups for the Daytona 500. The two 50-lap/125-mile all-out sprints establish positions 3-30 in the 500's 43-car starting grid.
The Gatorade 125s represent the midpoint -- and the focal point -- of a qualifying process that stretches over five days and is at once the most challenging and unique in all of motorsports.
The front row for the 500 was locked in this past Sunday on "Bud Pole Day." Greg Biffle (No. 16 Jackson Hewitt/National Guard Ford) and Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), the top two qualifiers, earned the respective poles for the Gatorade 125s, set for Thursday. Odd-number qualifiers (Polesitter, third-fastest, fifth-fastest, etc.) will race in the first 125-miler. Even-number qualifiers (Second-, fourth-, sixth-fastest, etc.) will race in the second 125-miler.
Thursday's first race will establish the 500's odd-number grid positions, up to 29th, not counting Biffle. The second race will set even-number starts, up to 30th, not counting Sadler.
Positions 31-38 will be set according to original qualifying speeds. Positions 39-43 will be set via the provisional system.
Thus, the pressure has been reduced -- sort of -- for Biffle and Sadler. They will lead the field at the start of the 500 provided they don't have to go to back-up cars or switch engines beforehand, which would relegate them to the rear of the field. Whatever cars they drive, however, are to be taken seriously. Their respective car owners -- Jack Roush and Robert Yates -- are pooling resources and experience in regards to engine development.
For their competition, that's an ominous development.
Bud Pole winner Biffle, part of Roush Racing's stocked stable of drivers that includes reigning series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), is emerging as a force at Daytona. He also won the last series race at the 2.5-mile track, last season's Pepsi 400.
"We've been fast since we got [the car] off the trailer here," said Biffle, a former champion in the NASCAR Busch Series (2002) and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2000).
"This kind of makes a little bit of a statement," Biffle added, addressing those who considered his victory last July at Daytona as a fuel-mileage fluke.
The Gatorade 125s speak for themselves, partly because of the chance for retribution they afford drivers who faltered on pole day.
Said four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet): "The nice thing about Daytona is that if you don't qualify well, you've got that qualifying race to get you a good starting position."
If you do qualify well -- i.e., on the front row -- there are benefits beyond a starting spot.
"To get a position locked in already for Sunday's 500, it just seems like a load is already off my shoulders," said Sadler. "I think we've got just as good a shot as anybody to be up front in the 125 and Sunday in the 500."