DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Thursday could be stormy at Daytona International Speedway.
There has been at least one wreck every day Sprint Cup Series cars have been on the track in Daytona this month, including one during Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited special event.
A wreck during Thursday’s Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races could send teams scurrying back home for cars before Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Wednesday’s incident involving Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin was just the latest.
“I think there’s a lot to be seen yet,” said driver Matt Kenseth. “Saturday pretty early, half the field got wiped out, and the smaller the pack, the tougher it is generally to make a move.”
Such is life with the newest generation of cars in the series.
Thursday’s races will set the lineup for the 500, except for the front row. Danica Patrick, the first woman to win a pole in a series race, and Jeff Gordon, who qualified second-fastest, are locked into their spots.
And most teams aren’t worried about making the field – 45 cars will be competing for 43 spots.
So, what’s a driver to do?
As Gordon points out, Thursday’s events are races, and “when you go into a race, you’re racing to win.”
“You have to go in approaching it to learn all that you can, build momentum and confidence,” he said. “You do that by winning that race.
“That’s the best thing you can do.”
The top 15 drivers in each race – not including Patrick and Gordon – will qualify for the 500.
Those outside the top 15 will fill the final 11 spots in the field, with the top four remaining qualifying speeds getting positions Nos. 33-36, then six spots will be determined by 2012 car owner points.
If there is a past champion left, he will get the 43rd spot in the 500. If not, the spot will go to the next in line from 2012 owner points.
The drivers lowest in owner points – Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski – also were the slowest during qualifying Sunday. They can’t make the field without finishing among the top 15.
Even Patrick has work to do.
“She’s going to have to get out there and let us know what we got to do to make the car comfortable for her – two-wide, three-wide – whatever it takes,” said crew chief Tony Gibson.
“If we tear it up, we tear it up. We have another one on the truck.”
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