DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Thursday could be stormy at Daytona International Speedway.
There has been at least one wreck every day that Sprint Cup Series cars have been on the track in Daytona this month, including one during Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited special event.
A wreck during Thursday’s Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races could send teams scurrying back to North Carolina for cars before Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Wednesday’s incident involving Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin was just the latest.
“I think there’s a lot to be seen yet,” said driver Matt Kenseth. “Saturday pretty early, half the field got wiped out, and the smaller the pack, the tougher it is generally to make a move.
“The more cars are out there, the bigger hole there is in the air. There’s a lot more opportunities and chances, I think, to make a move.”
Such is life with the newest generation of cars in the series. Everyone is still trying to figure it out.
Thursday’s races will set the lineup for the 500, except for the front row. Danica Patrick, the first woman to win a pole in a series race, and Jeff Gordon, who qualified second-fastest, are locked their respective spots.
And most other teams aren’t worried about making the field – 45 cars will be competing for 43 spots.
So, what’s a driver to do? Drive hard and risk being in the big wreck? Or hold back and wait for Sunday?
Thursday’s races offer a chance to find out what the cars can do in the draft.
Plus, as Gordon points out, Thursday’s events are races, and “when you go into a race, you’re racing to win.”
“You have to go in approaching it to learn all that you can, build momentum and confidence,” he said. “You do that by winning that race.
“That’s the best thing you can do.”
The top 15 drivers in each race – not including Patrick and Gordon – will qualify for the 500.
Those who finish outside the top 15 will fill the final 11 spots in the field, with the top four remaining qualifying speeds filling positions Nos. 33-36, then six spots will be filled based upon 2012 car owner points.
If there is a past champion left, he will get the final spot in the 500. If not, the 43rd spot will go to the next in line from 2012 owner points.
The drivers lowest in owner points – Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski – also were the slowest during qualifying Sunday. They can’t make the field without finishing among the top 15 in their respective qualifying races.
Even Patrick, with her guaranteed spot, has work to do.
“There’s still a lot of things that are not answered,” said Tony Gibson, Patrick’s crew chief. “She’s going to have to get out there and let us know what we got to do to make the car comfortable for her – two-wide, three-wide – whatever it takes.
“If we tear it up, we tear it up. We have another one on the truck.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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