DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – We’ll officially set the field for Sunday’s 62nd Annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on Thursday night at the World Center of Speed. The annual Bluegreen Vacations Duels in Daytona (7 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will once again set the starting positions for 40 drivers as well as send three more home.
That’s a big storyline in itself.
But, there are others too.
5 Drivers Going For 2 Spots
After a one year hiatus in 2018, the Duels will once again mean something again in terms of drivers racing their ways into the big show. For 2018, we saw 40 drivers show up for 40 spots. There wasn’t much of an incentive to race hard. Everyone would be racing in the ‘500. Why unnecessarily tear up some equipment?
Last year, we had six open cars where two of which are already guaranteed spots into the ‘500 due to their qualifying speeds. This year, seven open cars came to Daytona with two locking themselves in already due to their qualifying speed again. Both Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan know that they’re in the field but Reed Sorenson, Daniel Suarez and Chad Finchum in Duel 1 and Timmy Hill and JJ Yeley in Duel 2 will have to race their ways in for the final two spots.
Five enter, three will go home.
Points On The Line
Once again, 20 drivers will leave Thursday night with points in their pockets. Like in the last few years, the top 10 in each race will score points once the checkered flag drops. It gives an extra incentive to race hard on Thursday night and to just not ride around in the back.
The winner of each Duel gets 10 points. The second place finisher in each will get nine. The third place driver will receive eight, fourth will get seventh and so on down to one point for 10th place.
Will drivers elect to go after the points in the end or just play it conservative and make sure their cars get to the Daytona 500 in once piece?
Starting Position Matters For Daytona 500 So Scoring Points Thursday Will Help
Normally, starting positions for a superspeedway race is just a number. When cars are running in a pack drafting with one another, why does it matter where you come from? Well, what if I told you that the last eight years have seen the Daytona 500 winner come from the first 7 Rows? In fact, its actually happened 10 times since 2008.
The weird thing is, since 2001, we haven’t actually seen the Daytona 500 winner come from the front row. So, if you finish in the top seven in your Duel, you have a much greater chance of winning the ‘500 on Sunday.
Hendrick/JGR/Penske Cars The Favorites
Since 2005, Hendrick, Gibbs and Penske cars have combined to win all but 17 races during Daytona Speedweeks. Furthermore, they’ve won all but five races since 2013 at Daytona in February. They’re clearly the ones to beat on Thursday night.
Between the trio of teams, they’ve won 12 of the last 13 Duels in Daytona. Hendrick and Gibbs each have five trips to victory lane a piece while Penske has two.
HMS has won 10 Duels since 2005 and will have a car on the front row in Duel 1 (Chase Elliott) and three of the top four starting spots in Duel 2. Chase Elliott has won a Duel in two of the last three years and rolls off second in the first 150-mile qualifying race on Thursday night.
JGR will have a shot as well with Denny Hamlin landing in victory lane twice since 2014 and Kyle Busch as many times since 2013. They’ll likely be strong. They have two of the top five starters in both Duels.
Ryan Blaney won for Penske in 2018 and Joey Logano last year. All three Penske drivers are in the first Duel.
Will Hendrick Have The Right Package?
Last year, HMS saw their four straight year mark of winning at least one Duel in Daytona end. They swept both in 2015, then won one a year in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018. In 2019, they weren’t really a factor.
Will that change on Thursday night?
Chase Elliott may be a sitting duck in the first Duel but they do have three of the top four starters in the second 150-mile qualifying race though.
The Duels are a bit on an anomaly too. These cars qualified during the day last Sunday. The race this coming Sunday is during the day. Heck, even the Clash now is back during the day. The only time these drivers race under the lights at the World Center of Racing during Speedweeks are the Duels.
So, teams can trim out knowing they’ll have cooler temps and more grip at night. That’s kind of what has bit HMS lately in the Daytona 500. The Duels have given them false hope. How will the do this year?
What Kind Of Racing Will We See?
The Clash was ho-hum again this year until the chaotic ending with literally all 18 cars getting crash damage at some point. We saw single file racing all day last Sunday, until the end. Same thing happened in the 2019 Clash too. Will Thursday night be the same as Sunday’s Clash and last year’s Duels?
My guess is, yes.
No one wants to tear up a bunch of equipment. 38 of the 43 drivers know that they have a guaranteed starting spot in the field. While points are on the line, are they worth the risk?
That’s why I have a feeling a majority of the 60 Laps in each Duel will be single file again. Why push it early? You need to be there in the end after all. Plus, with most of the 18 starters in Sunday’s race having damaged race cars and those also serving as the Daytona 500 backup cars, why risk tearing up two race cars in four days?
I think the racing on Thursday will be less than desired.
Maybe we will get good finishes.
Expect Quick Races
The two Duels should wrap up fairly quickly. 7 of the last 8 Duels have run to completion in less than one hour including 12 of the last 16. In fact, the longest Duel since 2009 came just last year in the first Duel which lasted 1-hour, 8-minutes and 25-seconds.
The two last year lasted 50-minutes and 38-seconds (Duel 1) and 46-minutes and 36-seconds (Duel 2).
With an expected tame night, I can’t see either Duel lasting past an hour.