Date: Feb. 15, 2015
Event: Qualifying for the 57th Daytona 500 (Round 1 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Pole Winner: Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports (44.711 seconds at 201.293 mph)
SHR Lineup: Kevin Harvick (29th, 45.456 seconds at 197.994 mph)
Kurt Busch (30th, 45.460 seconds at 197.976 mph)
Tony Stewart (31st, 45.462 seconds at 197.968 mph)
Danica Patrick (32nd, 45.464 seconds at 197.959 mph)
For the first time, NASCAR used group qualifying to determine the front row for the 57th Daytona 500 on Feb. 22. Previously, time trials were used to set positions 1-2 in the Daytona 500, where a driver made two timed laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The fastest driver earned the pole and the second fastest driver earned the No. 2 starting spot.
The new format to set the front row for this year’s Daytona 500 did not go well for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Here’s how it happened.
Qualifying consisted of three rounds with the first round divided into two groups based on a random draw. Teams drawing an odd number were placed in the first group with even numbers in the second group. All four SHR drivers were in the first group.
The 24-fastest drivers combined from the first round advanced to the second, five-minute round. The 12-fastest drivers from that session advanced to the final, five-minute round of qualifying where they battled for the pole.
With each SHR driver – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick – in the first group, their qualifying fate was sealed when a multicar crash interrupted their five-minute allotment of track time. None of them were able to get their cars up to full speed prior to the accident, and when the red flag was lifted and the track was back under green-flag conditions, there wasn’t enough time for any SHR driver to make a full-speed qualifying lap before their session timed out. As a result, Harvick ended the session 11th quick, Busch was 12th quick, Stewart was 13th and Patrick was 14th quick.
When the second group went out, their five-minute allotment was uninterrupted. No one crashed, so the caution never came out, giving those drivers plenty of time to get their cars up to full song. This jettisoned Harvick, Busch, Stewart and Patrick to 29th, 30th, 31st and 32nd quick, respectively, in the first round of qualifying. None were able to advance to round two.
At the other end of the qualifying spectrum were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. They locked up their starting spots for the Daytona 500 by qualifying 1-2. Gordon won the pole in the final round of knockout qualifying with a lap of 44.711 seconds at 201.293 mph. It was his 78th career Sprint Cup pole and his second in the Daytona 500. Johnson missed the top spot by .035 of a second as he turned a lap of 44.746 seconds at 201.135 mph. A total of 49 drivers made a qualifying attempt.
While qualifying locked in the front row, the remaining positions will be determined following Thursday’s Budweiser Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the majority of the 43-car Daytona 500 field.
Those cars earning odd-numbered positions from qualifying will be assigned to the first Duel race. Those cars earning even-numbered positions from qualifying will compete in the second Duel race. The starting positions for each Duel race will be based on qualifying times.
Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for SHR, will start 15th in the first Duel. Joining Harvick in the first Duel will be Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR. He will start 16th.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, will start 15th in the second Duel. Joining Busch in the second Duel will be Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR. She will start 16th.
The top-15 finishers in each Duel race – excluding the already locked-in front row – will earn a spot in the Daytona 500 and fill positions 3-32. Based on their finishing position in the first Duel race, the top-15 will line up on the inside row (odd-number starting positions). Based on their finishing position in the second Duel race, the top-15 will line up on the outside row (even-number starting positions).
Positions 33-36 will go to the four fastest cars from any qualifying round that have not already earned a spot. Positions 37-42 will be provisional spots that go to the highest six cars in 2014 owner points that have not already qualified via the Duel or qualifying. The 43rd starting position will be assigned to any car owner who has the most recent eligible past Sprint Cup champion who did not make the field by any other method, providing the driver had competed in the 2014 Sprint Cup season. If the 43rd position remains unused, it will be assigned to the next highest car in 2014 owner points not already locked into the field.
The Budweiser Duel gets underway at 7 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 19 with live coverage on FOX Sports 1. The green flag waves for the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.