The buildup to the 2021 Daytona 500 will be more compressed than it has been in recent years.
The entire qualifying process has been moved to the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the February 14 opening to the NASCAR Cup Series season.
All of the drivers entered into the field will race for the two spots on the front row Wednesday during a regular qualifying session. On Thursday, the Duels at Daytona will determine the rest of the starting order. One race will set all of the inside row positions, and the other will align the outside spots.
Daytona 500 Qualifying Schedule
Dates: Wednesday, February 10 and Thursday, February 11
TV: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, FS1
Format and Rules
The only numbers from Wednesday's session that will affect the Daytona 500 starting grid will be the two fastest times.
The drivers with the two best qualifying times will be locked in the front row. They are allowed to compete in the duels, but their finishing positions will not be relevant to setting the grid.
Thursday's duels will determine the inside and outside rows and which competitors will not be in the 40-car field.
A Chevrolet driver has captured the Daytona 500 pole in each of the past eight years.
Hendrick Motorsports had a grip on the position from 2015-19, when Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron combined to win five poles.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ended Hendrick's dominance in 2020, when he beat out Elliott, Bowman and Jimmie Johnson in qualifying.
Byron and Joey Logano won the duels last year, but neither driver finished in the top 10 of The Great American Race. In fact, seven of the top eight finishers at last year's event started the race outside the top 15. Kevin Harvick was the only top-10 starter to earn a top-eight spot.
Last year's race winner, Denny Hamlin, started in 21st place. He was one of four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers that failed to qualify in the top 10.
Starting position is not as important at Daytona as it is at other tracks because competitors can gain track position in a heartbeat. So while drivers do not want to start at the back of the field, there is a path to the front through a proper drafting strategy and following the right line on the track.
It may take some time for drivers to reach the front, but Hamlin proved last year that it does not matter where you start as long as you avoid the wrecks and play your strategy right.
Statistics obtained from NASCAR.com.