With the Daytona 500 approaching Feb. 21, it means the unique qualifying rounds for starting positions are happening during Speedweeks.
On Sunday, the front row was determined after a single-car qualifying event that gave Chase Elliott the pole position with Matt Kenseth starting in the No. 2 spot. Their positions were determined by how fast they ran the track in two attempts, but the upcoming Can-Am Duels to decide the remaining 38 spots will be determined differently.
There will be two races (odd qualifying finishers in Race 1 and even qualifiers in Race 2) that will align the rest of the field based on how each driver finishes in the 150-mile treks.
Here's a look at the schedule, starting grid and some reaction to the duels.
Can-Am Duels at Daytona
Date: February 18
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
LiveStream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
|Can-Am Starting Lineups|
|Can-Am Duel No. 1||Can-Am Duel No. 2|
|Chase Elliott||Matt Kenseth|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Kyle Busch|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Jimmie Johnson|
|Ryan Blaney*||Carl Edwards|
|Austin Dillon||Kurt Busch|
|Denny Hamlin||Casey Mears|
|Joey Logano||Ryan Newman|
|Kasey Kahne||Ty Dillon|
|Paul Menard||Aric Almirola|
|Brad Keselowski||Jamie McMurray|
|Greg Biffle||Kyle Larson|
|Brian Scott||Matt DiBenedetto*|
|Michael McDowell*||Michael Waltrip|
|Regan Smith||Danica Patrick|
|Chris Buescher||AJ Allmendinger|
|Bobby Labonte||Michael Annett|
|Trevor Bayne||Landon Cassill|
|Clint Bowyer||Robert Richardson Jr.*|
|Cole Whitt*||David Gilliland*|
|David Ragan||Reed Sorenson*|
|Sporting News; *non-chartered teams|
The front row was not the only thing determined after the qualifying event. Thirty-six of the 40 spots were already guaranteed by chartered cars, but eight drivers were vying for the final four spots. Two spots were locked up by Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto after they finished with the top two speeds.
DiBenedetto was relived to find out he'll be racing in the 500, per Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com.
"Man, I can sleep well this week finally," the 24-year-old said. "I've done a lot of things in my career, (but) I was more nervous for that than probably my first Sprint Cup race last year."
The two drivers will still compete in the Can-Am but will race Sunday no matter where they finish. That won't be the case for the other open drivers vying for the final two positions, per Bruce:
[Michael] McDowell, Robert Richardson Jr., Cole Whitt, David Gilliland, Josh Wise and Reed Sorenson can race their way into next Sunday's race by finishing highest among the Open teams in Thursday's Duel qualifiers. If either Blaney and/or DiBenedetto finish highest in their respective qualifiers, the final two positions would be based on Sunday's qualifying speeds, meaning McDowell (27th) and Richardson (38th) would be awarded the final two spots.
Elliott and Kenseth also don't have to worry about how they finish. It must be a pretty good feeling for the 20-year-old Elliott, who became the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500 pole position, per NBC Sports.
Former NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon congratulated Elliott on his victory:
Jeff Gordon @JeffGordonWeb
Really proud of @TeamHendrick & @chaseelliott. #DAYTONA500 Pole to start the season. I know there r a lot of 24 fans proud also.2/14/2016, 9:22:04 PM
Here are some highlights of Elliott's winning performance, per Fox Sports: NASCAR:
FOX SPORTS: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
Watch: @chaseelliott is 1/1 in #DAYTONA500 qualifying. #NASCAR #DaytonaDay @TeamHendrick https://t.co/mL6KitQENy2/14/2016, 8:52:52 PM
Elliott and Kenseth will take a bit of a backseat to the other drivers Thursday, as fans will be focused on who will fill spots three through 40. Austin Dillon is someone to keep any eye on after he won the 2014 poll. He will be starting in the fifth spot of Race 1. He was the top qualifier for Richard Childress Racing:
#DAYTONA500 qualifying results: @austindillon3 8th @RyanJNewman 15th @RCR27PMenard 17th @tydillon 18th https://t.co/kssksDFAgm2/14/2016, 7:48:53 PM
Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. just missed the front row, finishing with the third-best time, and will start in the No. 2 position in Race 1. He took the 2011 poll at the Daytona 500 and finished third.
Earnhardt was disappointed to just miss out on a top spot but said he'd be ready to go in the Can-Am:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. @DaleJr
Well damn. We had a shot at the pole but congrats to @chaseelliott and the 24 gang. Focus now turns to getting a trophy in 150 on Thursday.2/14/2016, 7:55:45 PM
Most likely more disappointed than Earnhardt are Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers, all of whom were flagged during initial qualifying. Truex was dinged for an improper roof flap, while Harvick and Vickers were cited for "irregularities with track bars," per Joe Rodgers of Omnisport (via Sporting News).
The infractions dropped the three offending drivers to the back of the pack for the Duels.
No matter what happens Thursday, there is no doubt this style of qualifying is one that provides excitement for the fans and is a great way to kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
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