NASCAR – Gatorade Duel – Daytona International Speedway

Just caught up on a tape delayed viewing of Thursday’s Gatorade Duel event – apparently the biggest-attended midweek sporting event in America. And while it’s great that Daytona creates effectively a week-long series of events for fans at the start of NASCAR’s Spring Cup season, I just have to ask: could they make the qualifying process for the Daytona 500 any MORE complicted? It was *insane*, this process of setting a grid. You needed to have an advanced doctorate in applied statistics to follow what was going on.

In summary: Sunday afternoon’s qualifying set the first two positions for the Daytona 500, meaning Martin Truex Jr and Mark Martin form the front row (unless they end up with car or engine damage requiring replacements that put them at the back of the field.) Most everyone else qualified for the race on their time, but the positions are set by their finishing positions in the two 60-lap Gatorade Duel events; 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the first duel start 3rd, 5th and 7th etc, and the top three in the second Duel start 4th, 6th, 8th etc. The top two non-qualifiers in each duel get to start the Daytona 500. There are other permutations and clauses but frankly thats as far as I had patence to follow.

Anyway:

Gatorade Duel 1

Martin Truex Jr had a scare on lap 49 when he spun coming out of turn 2; if he’d wrecked the car then he would have gone fro pole position on Sunday to the back of the grid. But he kept it out of the wall and suffered minimal damage easily fixed.

Truex had been ont of the leaders of Duel 1, but with his departure from the front it left the battle for the win to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon broke away and almost looked to have gone too early and leave him a sitting duck to anyone using the draughting advantage of team work from behind, but no challenge materialised and Gordon won out, marking his first visit to NASCAR’s victory lane in 41 races – more than a year.

Stewart and former Haas CNC driver Scott Riggs claimed the two Daytona 500 spots available through the duel, but Joe Nemechek missed out by one spot in his self-entered car and will now struggle to find sponsorship to compete further in the Sprint Cup. But the Duel marked a strong performance from rookie Joey Logano, who was only overtaken in the final few yards by reigning champion Jimmie Johnson for 3rd.

The biggest incident of the Duel (the final caution of the race) happened when Kirk Shelmerdine slid up the track forcing others to lift the throttle and causing havoc behind. Matt Kenseth and Sam Hornish Jr made contact, while Logano got into the back of Casey Mears, sending the Childress driver into a spin.

Pos  Driver            Car        Laps
 1.  Jeff Gordon       Chevrolet  60
 2.  Tony Stewart      Chevrolet  60
 3.  Jimmie Johnson    Chevrolet  60
 4.  Joey Logano       Toyota     60
 5.  Aric Almirola     Chevrolet  60
 6.  Kurt Busch        Dodge      60
 7.  Kasey Kahne       Dodge      60
 8.  Scott Riggs       Toyota     60
 9.  Paul Menard       Ford       60
10.  Jamie McMurray    Ford       60
11.  Joe Nemechek      Toyota     60
12.  Brad Keselowski   Chevrolet  60
13.  Marcos Ambrose    Toyota     60
14.  Casey Mears       Chevrolet  60
15.  Michael Waltrip   Toyota     60
16.  Sam Hornish Jr    Dodge      60
17.  Carl Long         Dodge      60
18.  Tony Raines       Dodge      60
19.  Terry Labonte     Toyota     60
20.  Kirk Shelmerdine  Toyota     60
21.  Martin Truex Jr   Chevrolet  60
22.  Robby Gordon      Toyota     60
23.  David Ragan       Ford       60
24.  Greg Biffle       Ford       58
25.  John Andretti     Chevrolet  53
26.  Matt Kenseth      Ford       52
27.  Bill Elliott      Ford       25
28.  Mike Skinner      Chevrolet  23

Gatorade Duel 2

Kyle Busch didn’t lead a lap of the second Duel event until just 5 to go – but once he took the lead, thanks to a timely assist from team mate Denny Hamlin, he was immovable. He defeated a late challenge from Mark Martin – who had led 36 laps during the event – by sliding up the track to block the move, and then held off Brian Vickers on the inside line in a very tight and dramatic finish to the 60 lap event.

Dale Earnhardt Jr was seventh after a troubled event: he led early on, but overshot his pit box during the first stop of the event and lost positions; and later in the race he briefly went a lap down due a right-front tyre puncture that forced him into the pits, where – to add insult to injury – he overshot his pit box again. Juan Montoya also had problems finding his pit box early int he race, but recovered to an impressive 4th.

Ryan Newman crashed heavily after being tapped by David Reutimann, meaning the defending Daytona 500 champion Newman will have to go to the back of the field on Sunday as he switches to his back-up car for the main event.

Jeremy Mayfield – who only announced he was creating his own team a month ago – was the first of the non-guaranteed drivers to make the Daytona 500 field, gambling on taking only two tyres on his last pitstop. AJ Allmendinger secured the second and last qualifying spot going begging by finishing 10th, thanks to more than a little help from his team mates Elliot Sadler and Reed Sorenson who dropped back to aid their colleague with draughting.

Pos  Driver             Car        Laps
 1.  Kyle Busch         Toyota     60
 2.  Mark Martin        Chevrolet  60
 3.  Brian Vickers      Toyota     60
 4.  Juan Montoya       Chevrolet  60
 5.  Denny Hamlin       Toyota     60
 6.  Bobby Labonte      Ford       60
 7.  Dale Earnhardt Jr  Chevrolet  60
 8.  Carl Edwards       Ford       60
 9.  Jeremy Mayfield    Toyota     60
10.  AJ Allmendinger    Dodge      60
11.  Clint Bowyer       Chevrolet  60
12.  David Stremme      Dodge      60
13.  Mike Wallace       Chevrolet  60
14.  Jeff Burton        Chevrolet  60
15.  David Reutimann    Toyota     60
16.  Regan Smith        Chevrolet  60
17.  Elliott Sadler     Dodge      60
18.  Kevin Harvick      Chevrolet  60
19.  Travis Kvapil      Ford       60
20.  Kelly Bires        Dodge      60
21.  Reed Sorenson      Dodge      60
22.  Derrike Cope       Dodge      58
23.  Norm Benning       Chevrolet  55
24.  Ryan Newman        Chevrolet  47
25.  Scott Speed        Toyota     44
26.  Mike Garvey        Dodge      27
27.  Boris Said         Ford       13

Daytona 500 starting line-up

So after all this torturous qualification process, what the hell does all that mean for the line-up for the first race of the season?

Pos #   Driver                  Car         Sponso
1   1   Martin Truex Jr.        Chevrolet   Bass Pro Shops / Tracker
2   5   Mark Martin             Chevrolet   Kellogg's / Carquest
3   24  Jeff Gordon             Chevrolet   DuPont
4   18  Kyle Busch              Toyota      M&M's
5   14  Tony Stewart            Chevrolet   Office Depot / Old Spice
6   83  Brian Vickers           Toyota      Red Bull
7   48  Jimmie Johnson          Chevrolet   Lowe's
8   42  Juan Montoya            Chevrolet   Target
9   20  Joey Logano*            Toyota      The Home Depot
10  11  Denny Hamlin            Toyota      FedEx Express
11  8   Aric Almirola           Chevrolet   Guitar Hero
12  96  Bobby Labonte           Ford        Ask.com
13  2   Kurt Busch              Dodge       Miller Lite
14  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr.      Chevrolet   Amp Energy / National Guard
15  9   Kasey Kahne             Dodge       Budweiser
16  99  Carl Edwards            Ford        Aflac
17  36  Scott Riggs             Toyota      Tommy Baldwin Racing
18  41  Jeremy Mayfield         Toyota      All Sport
19  98  Paul Menard             Ford        Quaker State / Menards
20  44  A.J. Allmendinger       Dodge       Valvoline
21  26  Jamie McMurray          Ford        Crown Royal
22  33  Clint Bowyer            Chevrolet   Cheerios / Hamburger Helper
23  47  Marcos Ambrose          Toyota      Little Debbie / Kingsford / Clorox
24  12  David Stremme           Dodge       Penske Racing
25  07  Casey Mears             Chevrolet   Jack Daniel's
26  31  Jeff Burton             Chevrolet   Caterpillar
27  55  Michael Waltrip         Toyota      NAPA
28  00  David Reutimann         Toyota      Aaron's Dream Machine
29  77  Sam Hornish Jr.         Dodge       Mobil 1
30  19  Elliott Sadler          Dodge       Stanley
31  7   Robby Gordon            Toyota      Jim Beam
32  29  Kevin Harvick           Chevrolet   Shell / Pennzoil
33  6   David Ragan             Ford        UPS
34  43  Reed Sorenson           Dodge       McDonald's
35  16  Greg Biffle             Ford        3M
36  39  Ryan Newman             Chevrolet   U.S. Army
37  34  John Andretti           Chevrolet   Window World
38  82  Scott Speed*            Toyota      Red Bull
39  17  Matt Kenseth            Ford        Dewalt
40  21  Bill Elliott            Ford        Motorcraft
41  28  Travis Kvapil           Ford        Golden Corral
42  78  Regan Smith             Chevrolet   Furniture Row Racing
43  66  Terry Labonte           Toyota      Window World
Did Not Qualify
44  187 Joe Nemechek            Toyota      NEMCO Motorsports
45  08  Boris Said              Ford        U.S. Chrome / Scotts Bonus S Max
46  09  Brad Keselowski         Chevrolet   Miccosukee Resort & Gaming
47  127 Kirk Shelmerdine        Toyota      Kirk Shelmerdine Racing
48  171 Mike Wallace            Chevrolet   TRG Motorsports
49  37  Tony Raines             Dodge       Long John Silver's
50  73  Mike Garvey             Dodge       Jani-King
51  175 Derrike Cope            Dodge       Blu Frog Energy Drink
52  123 Mike Skinner            Chevrolet   Mahindra Tractors
53  51  Kelly Bires             Dodge       BlackJack Racing
54  146 Carl Long               Dodge       Romeo Guest Construction
55  64  Geoff Bodine            Toyota      Gunselman Motorsports
56  157 Norm Benning            Chevrolet   Norm Benning Racing

* Denotes Rookie

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