February 8, 2009
By Kim Roberson
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2009 NASCAR season is officially underway. Last night, we had the 30th annual Budweiser Shootout, and today is qualifying day for the 51st Daytona 500. By the time everyone is done making their two laps around Daytona’s high banks this evening, we’ll know who the two men on the front row will be for the 500. It will be another four days until we know how everyone else will stack up.
For those who are just dipping their toes into the NASCAR world, be forewarned this is not how it usually works. Normally, everyone qualifies and everyone knows where they stand at the end of qualifying.
But the Daytona 500 is different, and it always has been. I don’t know if anyone knows why they qualify the way they do…they just always have.
A little history lesson about qualifying, and the “Twins” or “Duels”.
Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying has always been run before the Twin races. For the last six years, it has been on the Sunday before the big race. For the 20 years prior to that, it was held the Saturday before (8 days ahead of the race), and before that, qualifying was held on Wednesday before the race, and the day before the Twins.
Twin race qualifying goes back to 1959, the first year the cars raced at the Daytona International Speedway. The Duels (or Twins, depending on the era) used to not only help set the starting lineup, but they counted for points towards the end of year championship.
The first twin qualifying races were held in two categories: Modified Convertible and Grand National. They took the top 20 finishers from each of those races, and then the day before the 500, they held a “last chance” race to fill in the remaining 25 positions. (Yes, that equals 65 cars….). In 1960, they moved to just two qualifying races, dropping the “last chance” race. The races were originally run on Friday, but were eventually moved back to the current Thursday.
The name of the races changes depending on the era…and sponsor. For the first 8 years, they were just known as the 100 mile races to set qualifying. The distance was upped to 125 miles in 1969, which added to the excitement as the cars now had to make pit stops in order to finish the race (that changed when restrictor plates came into use in 1988, which stretched the fuel mileage of the teams). In 1982, the races became the “Uno Twin 125’s”, which gave way to the “7-11 Twins” in 1985. In ‘88 and ’89, the race reverted back to just the “Twin 125’s”, before Gatorade took up the sponsorship in 1991. In 2005, the race was boosted to 150 miles.
Until 2005, the Twins were used to set the starting grid for the Daytona 500 by the way the cars in each race finished. The top 14 cars from each twin went into the race in order, with the cars from the first race going on the inside, and the cars from the second race going on the outside. Until 1995, the next six to eight cars (depending on year) used their qualifying times from qualifying day, and the remaining positions were reserved for provisionals, or a Past Champion, who had not qualified for the race either on time or in one of the Twins.
With the advent of “The Chase”, and the locked in “Top 35”, the race was renamed “The Duels”, and the rules for how the races were used to set the 500 line-up, were changed. Now, it is a challenge to figure out who is actually in the Daytona 500 until the last lap of the second race because you have only eight positions to be filled using the race results, unless you have someone not in the top 35 win one of the front row positions on qualifying day, which then knocks the number to seven.
If you have a Past Champion needing to get in, such as Tony Stewart, who has no points to fall back on because he is racing in a team that was outside the top 35 last year, that number is dropped to six.
The previous year’s points are used to set up who runs in what Duel, with “odds” in the first race and “evens” in the second. Starting positions are determined by finishing positions in each race, much like the previous years, however instead of 14 cars being selected from each race, only the top-two non “top 35” finishers from each race are moved into the 500 starting line-up. The remaining non “top 35”positions (anywhere from two to four slots depending on who is on the front row and if a Past Champion needs the 43rd spot), are filled by qualifying speed set this afternoon.
If Tony Stewart doesn’t make the 500 by finishing in one of the top two spots today, or the two-four spots on Thursday, he will get the Past Champions provisional. If he does make it in on time, then Terry Labonte gets the Champion’s provisional. If both Tony and Terry make the race on speed, then Bill Elliott is in line for the provisional.
Some of the drivers that need to make it on time or speed are Scott Riggs, Travis Kvapil, Boris Said, Brad Keselowski, Mike Skinner, Kirk Shelmerdine, Geoff Bodine, Mike Wallace, and Regan Smith.
A few random tidbits of information about the history of the Twins/Duels.
Chevrolet has won 42 races, Ford 19, Pontiac 14, Dodge 10, Buick 6, Mercury 5, Oldsmobile 3, Plymouth 2, and AMC and Toyota have each won one race.
- Dale Earnhardt won ten Twin’s in a row, and a total of a dozen over his career.
- In 1993, Jeff Gordon won the first Twin he ever raced in.
- Four drivers had died racing in the Twins: Tab Prince in 1970, Friday hassle in 1972, Ricky Knotts in 1980, and Bruce Jacobi in 1987.
- Denny Hamlin scored Toyota’s first ever Cup Series win last year by winning his Duel race.
- The Duels have run more than 150 miles four times: both races in 2006 went to 160 miles, the first race in 2007 went to 157.5 miles, and the second race last year went to 160 miles, all because of green-white-checkered finishes. Only once has a race ended shorter than planned: in 1961 one of the races ended a lap early due to a crash. The 1968 races were cancelled due to rain.
Were you able to follow all of that? Hopefully, it will help you as you watch the cars qualify this afternoon, and then race in the Duels Thursday.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.