Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is different from other races, and the Sunday before The Great American Race is the first half of the procedure; a regular, single-car qualifying session takes place, yet the only positions that matter are first and second. The front row is determined, and then two qualifying races set the rest of the field. Those events, the Budweiser Duels, will happen Thursday night and be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.
In a three-hour TV slot, 49 cars put up times, beginning with NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The lineup was arranged by random draw, and rookies making first-time attempts were mixed in with seasoned veterans and champions. It’s a great way to start off the season.
Another great way? Having a huge storyline that fuels interest and enthusiasm. NASCAR got that today.
In the number that legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. made iconic, rookie Austin Dillon claimed the pole. When no one could knock him down, fans were split down the middle; half cheered and raved, while some were skeptical and playing conspiracy theorist. No matter the feeling, the No. 3 holding the top spot at Daytona International Speedway brought out emotion in everyone. Car owner and grandfather Richard Childress was visibly thrilled, for seeing his grandson and his old friend’s number come out on top.
That’s not the only feel-good story we’ll have heading into next weekend.
Second place goes to Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing, who also runs Earnhardt-Childress engines like Dillon. Truex raced for Michael Waltrip Racing last year, making The Chase yet affected by the Richmond International Raceway controversy in September. If being pulled from the “playoffs” wasn’t upsetting enough, the negative publicity shoved his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, away from MWR. This resulted in him having to find another ride, but it hasn’t stopped him. The drive put the single-car team on the front row, the organization known for helping Kurt Busch get back on his feet last year. There’s no doubt that Truex is already doing great things to further Furniture Row Racing’s success.
After everything was said and done, I asked fans on Twitter to describe the qualifying session in one word. Here are some of the answers I received: meaningless, ugh, fixed, boring, and annoying. Sounds like people are ready for the new qualifying system, which begins at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Budweiser Duels will begin at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 on Thursday, February 20th.