3 qualifying night storylines and the format for the 65th Annual Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — For the third straight year, qualifying to set the front row for the Daytona 500 as well as also the customary starting lineups for the annual Duels at Daytona will be held in primetime. This year is different though, in a sense that there’s literally no practice prior. That should in a way, be somewhat wild because drivers like Travis Pastrana have never raced this Next Gen before, let alone this sequential shifter, so his first time coming through the gears will be rolling off pit road on Wednesday night.

Qualifying Format

The qualifying format itself doesn’t change as we’ll have 42 drivers going for 40 spots into Sunday’s field with 38 of them knowing they have a guaranteed spot once the two rounds of qualifying are done on Wednesday night. All 36 chartered teams have a spot into Sunday’s race while among the seven open cars, the top two speeds among them also get in since if they don’t race their ways in on Thursday night, they could always fall back on their speed.

2023 Charters LOCKED IN

Chevrolet (16)

  • Hendrick Motorsports (4) – Kyle Larson (No. 5), Chase Elliott (No. 9), William Byron (No. 24) and Alex Bowman (No. 48)
  • Trackhouse Racing (2) – Ross Chastain (No. 1) and Daniel Suarez (No. 99)
  • Richard Childress Racing (2) – Austin Dillon (No. 3), Kyle Busch (No. 8)
  • Legacy Motor Club (2) – Noah Gragson (No. 42), Erik Jones (No. 43)
  • Kaulig Racing (2) – AJ Allmendinger (No. 16), Justin Haley (No. 31)
  • Spire Motorsports (2) – Corey LaJoie (No. 7), Ty Dillon (No. 77)
  • JTG Daugherty Racing (1) – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 47)
  • Live Fast Motorsports (1) – BJ McLeod (No. 78)

Ford (14)

  • Stewart-Haas Racing (4) – Kevin Harvick (No. 4), Aric Almirola (No. 10), Chase Briscoe (No. 14), Ryan Preece (No. 41).
  • Team Penske (3) – Austin Cindric (No. 2), Ryan Blaney (No. 12), Joey Logano (No. 22).
  • RFK Racing (2) – Brad Keselowksi (No. 6), Chris Buescher (No. 17)
  • Rick Ware Racing (2) – Riley Herbst (No. 15), Cody Ware (No. 51)
  • Front Row Motorsports (2) – Michael McDowell (No. 34), Todd Gilliland (No. 38)
  • Wood Brothers (1) – Harrison Burton is back in 2023.

Toyota (6)

  • Joe Gibbs Racing (4) – Denny Hamlin (No. 11), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19), Christopher Bell (No. 20), Ty Gibbs R (No. 54)
  • 23XI Racing (2) – Bubba Wallace (No. 23), Tyler Reddick (No. 45)

This year, you get Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Austin Dill (Beard Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Conor Daly (The Money Team) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing) each having to race their ways in.

Last year, it was Kaz Grala (The Money Team), Noah Gragson (Beard Motorsports), Greg Biffle (NY Racing Team), Jacques Villeneuve (Team Hezeberg) and Timmy Hill as well as JJ Yeley (MBM Motorsports) vying for the final four spots into the Daytona 500.

We know two of those six open cars will make the show on speed Wednesday night. That also means the other four drivers will go to bed Wednesday night not knowing if they’ll be in the race Sunday or not.

While it’s nothing glamorous in terms of qualifying for the ‘500 with only single car runs and just the front row being set, it’s still big for the teams as this rewards the offseason hardwork back in the North Carolina shops.

The drivers will tell you, qualifying at the Daytona International Speedway doesn’t have much to do about their skillset. It’s all about the teamwork in the offseason and engine department. The only thing the driver can do is screw it up says Alex Bowman.

William Byron says that it’s 90-10 in terms of 90% car and 10% driver for what you can get out of Daytona qualifying.

In terms of what happens for the format, when the last car takes their time, the odd cars (pole, 3rd fastest, 5th fastest, 7th fastest, etc) on the speed chart will start in the first race of Thursday night’s Duels. The’ll line up in order that they qualified in the sense that the quickest car on Wednesday will be on the pole for Duel 1. The third quickest car will start second. The fifth and seventh fastest cars from Wednesday will share Row 2 and so forth.

The even cars on the speed chart will start in that order for the second Duel.

So, who wins the pole?

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 16: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, pose in Ruoff Victory Lane after qualifying on the front row for the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Pole Favorites? Watch Out For The Bowties/Hendrick Motorsports

The easiest favorite for the pole will be a manufacturer in Chevrolet. The bowties have won 10 straight Daytona 500 poles and 15 of the last 17. They’ve also won 30 total Daytona 500 poles besting Ford by 17 total poles with the blue ovals scoring 12 poles in the Great American Race, the last being in 2012.

Hendrick Motorsports has to be the favorites among the Chevy camp as they’ve won seven of the last eight poles for here and 15 overall. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with JTG Daugherty Racing is the lone exception with winning the pole in 2020. Jeff Gordon started the streak in 2015. Chase Elliott won the pole in 2016 and again in 2017 followed by Alex Bowman in 2018 and 2021, William Byron in 2019 and Kyle Larson in 2022.

The only two races since 2006 that a Chevy driver didn’t earn the Daytona 500 pole was in 2007 (David Gilliland) and 2012 (Carl Edwards).

Toyota, has never won a Daytona 500 pole.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman shared the Daytona 500 front row last year while Larson and Chase Elliott shared the front row in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. Last year was also the eighth time HMS has swept the front row for the Great American Race too including three of which occurring in the last four years now and half occurring since 2017.

On top of that, HMS has actually won four straight poles in general at Daytona and 12 in the last 16 tries on the high banked 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway. The only 4 poles that they didn’t win was Greg Biffle (July 2016), Joey Logano (July 2019), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (February 2020) and Kevin Harvick (Aug. 2020). However, 2 of the 4 weren’t won on speed. Logano’s pole in 2019 was on points. Same for Harvick in 2020 as we didn’t qualify that year.

In saying that, they failed to win with having just 1 win in the last 13 Daytona races now. Elliott led the most laps (31) last August, but none of them even scored a top 10 that day.

A total of 44 different drivers have won the pole for the Daytona 500 with seven of them being active this weekend. Bowman and Elliott each have two poles apiece while Stenhouse Jr., Larson, Byron, Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr. as the others.

Bowman and Elliott are two of 11 total drivers to have won multiple Daytona 500 pole positions. Only four drivers have won consecutive poles with the last being Elliott (2016, 2017). Can Larson be the fifth?

If Larson pulls off the feat, he will join Fireball Roberts (1961-1963), Buddy Baker (1979-1980), Bill Elliott (1985, 1986, 1987), Ken Schrader (1988, 1989, 1990) and Chase Elliott (2016-2017) as the sixth different driver to win back-to-back poles for the DAYTONA 500.

Bowman could make a run for it. He’s eyeing his third career Daytona 500 pole, all coming in the last five years?

The most Daytona 500 poles is four by Bill Elliott (1985-87, 2001), Cale Yarborough (1968, 1970, 1978 and 1984) and Buddy Baker (1969, 1973, 1979 and 1980).

Bowman still has five straight front row starting spot in the Great American Race. Can he make it six straight?

Prior to Bowman reaching five straight, the previous record of consecutive front row starts in the DAYTONA 500 was three and it had occurred five times – Fireball Roberts (1961-1963), Richard Petty (1966-1968), Bill Elliott (1985-1987), Ken Schrader (1988-1990), Dale Earnhardt (1994-1996).

Daytona 500 Front Row Hasn’t Had Much Daytona 500 Race Success

Now, this potential pole on Wednesday night though does come with a caveat. The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was Dale Jarrett in 2000. The last pole winner to even nab a top five finish was Bill Elliott in 2002. The pole winner for the Daytona 500 has failed to score a top 10 finish in 17 of the last 22 years in fact including eight straight races. Their average finishing position?

16.59. The last five pole winners have failed to even get to 16th in the end with the best result since 2015 being 14th by Elliott in 2017.

It’s also not like the second starting spot is that much better. Their average finishing position in the big race? 16.27.

Just five times in the last 27 years has the second-place starter came home with a top five finish in the Great American Race.

The last outside pole winner to win the Daytona 500?

Dale Jarrett in 1993.

So, while the distinction of being a front row starter for the ‘500 is great an all, it hasn’t translated much into success a week later.

What Will The Speeds Look Like?

We wondered last year with this new car, what the qualifying speeds would actually look like. Well, we found out in qualifying, most would struggle to not only get out of the 180-mph bracket, they’d struggle to actually get into it.

Larson’s pole speed of 181.159 mph was the slowest pole speed for the Great American Race since Curtis Turner’s of 180.831 mph back in 1967. Yes, this was the slowest pole speed in 55 years.

AJ Foyt went 182.744 mph in 1971. Bill Elliott was 183.565 mph in 2001. Those were the only other two instances that the pole speeds dipped below 185 mph in this 55 year span.

In fact, this is the 10th slowest pole speed ever. That’s saying something when you debut a new Next Gen car that the speeds have gone way back. Granted, you don’t need to have high speeds to put on a good show, but it’s noteworthy.

The streak of 10 straight years of the pole speed for the Daytona 500 being at or above the 190 mph bracket has been broken. In fact, 11 of the last 12 pole speeds prior to last year’s Speedweeks were over 190 mph at that.

Jeff Gordon went 201.293 mph in 2015 for the only time 1987 that the pole speed broke the 200 mph barrier. In 2021, it was just the second time in the last decade that the pole speed failed to hit 194 mph. Chase Elliott (192.872 mph) in 2017 was the other.

Alex Bowman went 191.261 mph in his 2021 pole winning run. That was over 3 mph slower than what Ricky Stenhouse went 194.582 mph a year prior. William Byron went 194.305 mph in the final year of the restrictor plate in 2019. Alex Bowman was at 195.644 mph a year prior to that in 2018.

Prior to 2010 though, the pole speeds didn’t get out of the 180’s for nine straight years but none were as slow as this.

From 2015 until now, the pole speed has dropped 20 mph.

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