Daytona qualifying races present extra challenge to drivers


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Superspeedway racing often can be dicey, but drivers will have even more to balance in tonight’s 150-mile qualifying races that will set the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

With parts for the Next Gen car in short supply because of the pandemic, teams don’t have their full compliment of cars. Some organizations do not have a backup car for each team this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Teams also plan to run their Daytona 500 within the next couple of weeks.

Wrecking a car in tonight’s qualifying race could impact a team not only this weekend but the next few weeks.

That means drivers will have more to weigh as they decide how aggressive to be in these races, which pay points to the top 10 finishes in each event.

MORE: Daytona Duel 1 starting lineup (start at 7 p.m. ET on FS1) 

MORE: Daytona Duel 2 starting lineup (start at about 8:45 p.m. ET on FS1)

“I would really like to get this car through the whole 500 and maybe just replace a body panel or two and then go race on the West Coast,” Tyler Reddick said. “So, it’s a weird spot to be in for our biggest race of the year, but I am trying to navigate it as smart as possible.”

Asked about how many backups Team Penske had for its three teams and the Wood Brothers, Ryan Blaney said: “We have a couple for the four of us. It is a tough thing. Our inventory is not very big currently – no one’s is.  

“It’s been difficult to get parts and pieces, honestly, for the teams to kind of put full things together. We used to come down here with one or two backups for each team just in case things happened, and now we’re sitting on a couple for your whole organization, so that’s been difficult. You have to have that in the back of your head.”

With the focus on protecting the car, there has been limited drafting sessions in practice this week. The qualifying races will mark the first time during Speedweek that drivers will have a chance to be in a big pack with this new car.

“There is going to be some point where we have to race in the Duel, learn about the car and go from there,” Erik Jones said. “It’ll be an eyes-wide-open type of deal. If anything gets really dicey or out of hand, we’re going to have to be extra cautious. I don’t think us riding around by ourselves is going to be an option just because we do have to learn a little bit. But we definitely are going to err on the heavy side of caution.”

Not everyone is likely to take that stance.

“I can’t speak for the whole field on what they are thinking, but I don’t see myself racing any different in the Duel than I will in the 500,” Joey Logano said. “I am planning to go race. I think as soon as you get scared of crashing and those type of things you are never going to win. So, I am going to go race and if we crash, so be it, we will figure it out.”

Tonight’s race also will determine which of the six unchartered cars make the Daytona 500. Four spots will go to unchartered cars. Jacques Villeneuve and Noah Gragson are guaranteed a spot in the 500 after being the fastest two of those six unchartered cars. That leaves four drivers — Greg Biffle, Kaz Grala, Timmy Hill and JJ Yeley — for the final two spots.