After last week’s qualifying races and Thursday’s Budweiser Duels, the starting positions are finally set for the Daytona 500 race this upcoming Sunday. Pole position winner Austin Dillon will lead the charge on Sunday, driving the historic No. 3 car, which has not made an appearance at Daytona since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal crash on February 18, 2001.
Dillon secured his spot last week at qualifying when he drove the No. 3 car two laps (5 miles) in 45.914 seconds, hitting a top speed of 196.019 miles per hour. Dillon’s grandfather Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, retired Earnhardt Sr.’s famous No.3 car after Earnhardt passed away in the fatal crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. Childress, who was a close friend of Earnhardt Sr., allowed his 23-year-old grandson to field and carry the sentimental weight of the historic car this year at Daytona.
The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of NASCAR. Not only does the winner get to drive on the famed victory lane, they also are awarded with the biggest purse out of all the races in the Sprint Cup Series. The order of starting positions do have a significant impact on the race. There is some advantage to starting at pole position, like Dillon will on Sunday – nine Daytona 500 championships were won by drivers in that same starting position, including Earnhardt Sr, who won the 1998 Daytona 500.
The Daytona 500 positions for Sunday’s race have been determined with one 2-lap qualifying race, two 24-car races, along with other factors playing in as well. The first two positions of the Daytona 500, called “pole position” and “outer pole” are filled by the two fastest drivers at Sunday’s 2-lap qualifying, this being Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr.
The next thirty positions, 3 through 32, are filled by the top thirty finishers from the two-race 24-car Budweiser Duels. Positions 33 through 36 are reserved for the four fastest cars from qualifying that did not get a position through the duels – this allows the fastest cars a position despite things like malfunctions or crashes. The following 6 positions, 37 through 42, are reserved for drivers with the most owner points (points earned in the Sprint 2013 season) who did not qualify with either the qualifying races, or the Budweiser Duels.
The final 43rd position is usually reserved for previous champions who did not qualify – this year, however, because there was no eligible champion who needed this spot, the 43rd position will be filled by another driver who had owner points but did not qualify.
This formula for deciding the starting order is very interesting, as the order for the Daytona 500 can change in a single race. This is what happened on Thursday when fifth-place Jimmie Johnson’s car ran out of gas in the fourth turn of the final lap. Johnson’s car bumped into the wall, causing a chain reaction resulting in an erratic seven car crash, sending one car flipping through the air. Sunday’s starting positions were somewhat set up until the final lap of the second duel. Because of the crash, some drivers who originally did not have a spot in the Daytona 500 earned a spot in Sunday’s race.
With the Daytona 500 positions set, Sunday’s race will be a very memorable one, especially with the return of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s legendary No. 3 car leading the pack. Although some people feel emotionally conflicted seeing the car be being brought back to the Daytona raceway, Childress believes that the car is in good hands with his grandson. Childress explained, “It’s something Dale and I talked about many years ago.” He continued, “It just had to be the right time to bring it back, and this is it.” Dillon’s performance on Sunday will truly determine whether or not he can fill the shoes of one of NASCAR’s greatest legends.
By Tyler Shibata