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NASCAR Notebook for February 10th

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 09, 2009

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There are a lot of reasons why the Daytona 500 is so special and unique. This race is considered to be NASCAR's equivalent of the NFL's Super Bowl and it's very unique for a sport to start a new season with such an important event. It's certainly one of the most prestigious races in the world and its featured purse also makes it one of the richest motorsports events in the world.

The Daytona 500 also has a very unique system for determining its 43 car line up that is completely different from the other 35 races they will present during the 2009 season.  The intricate nature for getting a starting berth in the great American race combines the traditional two lap qualifying run, two special qualifying races, a past champions provisional and is finally locked in place based on the top 35 in NASCAR's owner's points standings from last year which in the case of this year's race has been impacted by some recent buying and swapping of owner's points. This unique process is frequently misunderstood especially among the newer fans to NASCAR.

The process began last Sunday afternoon when the 56 teams entered in this year's race ran the traditional two lap qualifying session. This process locked in the first two drivers for next Sunday's race. That would be Martin Truex Jr, who won the Coors Light Pole Award for the fastest time, and Mark Martin who set the second fastest time.

Starting positions 3 through 39 will be determined by the results of Thursday's two Gatorade Duel Races. Truex and Martin has to run these races, and will start on the pole positions, despite the fact they are already locked into the field.

Now it's important to formally introduce the element of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points into this mix. The top 35 policy was established by NASCAR a few years ago as an incentive for teams to run all 36 races in the annual schedule. It's also used as a safety valve to insure that its high profile drivers and teams, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jimmie Johnson etc, will not be bumped from the field on qualifying day. The bottom line of this policy is it guarantees teams a starting berth in the 2009 races as long as they remain in the top 35. Presently NASCAR is working off of the 2008 owner's points meaning teams that finished in the top 35 last year automatically have a starting berth in this year's Daytona 500. Last year's standing will be used for the first five races of this year then current 2009 owner's points will be implemented. Essentially this means that a top 35 team can still make the race despite the possibility of an extremely slow qualifying time or a failure to finish their Gatorade Duel race.

During the winter off season these owner's points started making headlines in a very big way. There were a handful of teams, that ran the full season last year, that were not going to be operational for the 2009 season. Part of the reason for this was the extraordinary amount of team mergers that occurred which combined two separate teams into one operation. Most of these teams opted to run three or four cars for 2009 and the extra machines from last year were classified as non operational. The other reason was simply a case of harsh economics that forced some teams to close their shop doors due to a lack of sponsorship. Despite the demise of these teams they still had owner's point accrued from last year. The wheeling and dealing by other teams to obtain these suddenly available points hit frenzy status.

A perfect example of this occurred this past week involving Sam Hornish Jr the driver of the #77 Mobil 1 Dodge owned by Roger Penske Racing. Hornish finished just outside of the top 35 last year which normally would have meant that he had to race his way into the Daytona 500 via the Gatorade Duels or hope he had a fast enough qualifying time from last Sunday to make the back of the starting field. Meanwhile Bill Davis Racing, whose team finished 31st in the 2008 owner's standings, announced they would not be returning in 2009. Roger Penske made a deal with Bill Davis to purchase his #22 team. As the new owner Penske had the right to assign the #22 owner's points to his #77 car. That means that Hornish is now elevated to 31st in the 2008's owner's rankings and is now guaranteed a starting berth in Sunday's race as well as the first five races of 2009.

When the Gatorade Duels conclude this Thursday we will know what drivers will occupy the first 39 positions for the race. The final four spots in the 43 car field will be based on last Sunday's Pole Day qualifying speeds of cars that have not already earned a starting position. As it stands right now drivers Bill Elliot, Travis Kvapil and Tony Stewart are guaranteed to start the race based on their respective qualifying efforts.

Next the element of the past champion's provisional enters into this mix. If there is an eligible Nextel Sprint Cup Series champion entered in the race who has not already qualified, that past champion will receive the 43d and final position. Heading into next Thursday 1996 Cup champion Terry Labonte has the final spot locked down.

There is one final scenario to be considered here. There are four other drivers, on the outside looking in, that will be hoping for an eleventh hour miracle next Thursday that will get them into the race.  Elliot, Stewart, Kvapil and Labonte could elevate their status in the starting field by having successful finishes in their Gatorade Duels. If that happens then one or more drivers in a group featuring Regan Smith, Joe Nemechek, Boris Said and Scott Riggs might get a last minute opportunity to join the final line up based on their qualifying speeds.

The line up procedure for the great American race is unique and to an extent somewhat complicated. But it's also very special because it adds two high profile NASCAR Sprint Cup races to the Speed Weeks schedule. It will also give the fans an opportunity to see all of the entrants running in race trim which will be very insightful in determining which of the teams will be strong contenders next Sunday.

The Gatorade Duels can be seen on the Speed Channel on Thursday with the pre race show beginning at 1 pm eastern time.

OFFICIAL LINE UP FOR GATORADE DUEL RACE NUMBER ONE.

ROW 1  MARTIN TRUEX JR. CHEVROLET - BILL ELLIOT. FORD
ROW 2  JIMMIE JOHNSON. CHEVROLET- ARIC ALMIROLA. CHEVROLET
ROW 3  JEFF GORDON. CHEVROLET - TONY STEWART. CHEVROLET
ROW 4  PAUL MENARD. FORD - GREG BIFFLE. FORD
ROW 5  JOE NEMECHEK. TOYOTA - JOEY LAGANO. TOYOTA
ROW 6  MATT KENSETH. FORD - JAMIE MC MURRAY. FORD
ROW 7  DAVID RAGAN. FORD. - MARCUS AMBROSE. TOYOTA
ROW 8  SCOTT RIGGS. TOYOTA - MICHAEL WALTRIP. TOYOTA
ROW 9  JOHN ANDRETTI. CHEVROLET - BRAD KESELOWSKI. CHEVROLET
ROW 10 KASEY KAHNE. DODGE - ROBBY GORDON. TOYOTA
ROW 11 CASEY MEARS. CHEVROLET - KURT BUSCH. DODGE
ROW 12 SAM HORNISH JR. DODGE - KIRK SHELMERDINE. TOYOTA
ROW 13 TONY RAINES. DODGE - TERRY LABONTE. TOYOTA
ROW 14 MIKE SKINNER. CHEVROLET - CARL LONG. DODGE

OFFICIAL LINE UP FOR GATORADE DUEL NUMBER TWO.

ROW 1  MARK MARTIN. CHEVROLET - RYAN NEWMAN. CHEVROLET
ROW 2  JUAN PABLO MONTOYA. DODGE - TRAVIS KVAPIL. FORD
ROW 3  BOBBY LABONTE. FORD - DALE EARNHARDT JR. CHEVROLET
ROW 4  REGAN SMITH. CHEVROLET - KYLE BUSCH. TOYOTA
ROW 5  SCOTT SPEED. TOYOTA - DAVID REUTIMANN. TOYOTA
ROW 6  BORIS SAID. FORD - CLINT BOWYER. CHEVROLET
ROW 7  DENNY HAMLIN. TOYOTA - CARL EDWARDS. FORD
ROW 8  REED SORENSON. DODGE - ELLIOT SADLER. DODGE
ROW 9  JEFF BURTON. CHEVROLET - BRIAN VICKERS. TOYOTA
ROW 10 A J ALLMENDINGER. DODGE - DAVID STREMME. DODGE
ROW 11 JEREMY MAYFIED. TOYOTA - MIKE WALLACE. CHEVROLET
ROW 12 MIKE GARVEY. DODGE - KEVIN HARVICK. CHEVROLET
ROW 13 DERRIKE COPE. DODGE - KELLY BIRES. DODGE
ROW 14 GEOFF BODINE. TOYOTA - NORM BENNING. CHEVROLET

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