DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The time is here. The field for the 65th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) will once again be set on Thursday night at the World Center of Speed. The annual Bluegreen Vacations Duels in Daytona (7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN) will determine the starting positions for 40 drivers with hopes and aspirations of winning Sunday’s Great American Race. The twin 150’s will also send two drivers home too.
38 of the 42 drivers here during Speedweeks already know their fate. The remaining four don’t. Half of them will make the race. The other half will see their Daytona 500 dreams dashed under the lights in Daytona.
So how does this work.
Among the 6 open cars, they split them in each Duel. 3 will race in the first Duel, the other 3 in the second.
With all 36 chartered teams already in and Jimmie Johnson and Travis Pastrana being the top two open qualifiers on Wednesday night, that means the four drivers of Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, Austin Hill and Conor Daly have to race their ways in to take the final two spots into the Great American Race.
How it works though is, if Johnson and Pastrana race their ways in, then next up on speed goes to the next fastest open car qualifier which is Zane Smith. After him is Austin Hill.
What this means is, in Duel 1 you get Johnson and both Smith’s. If Johnson elects to just ride around in the back, then it’s down to each Smith to race their way in. If Johnson finishes ahead of both, then Zane Smith is in on speed.
Zane Smith’s best chances are to in fact push Johnson. Does Johnson want pushed though in being a car owner of a ride without a charter at that? His best scenario is to just ride around in the back and to honestly lose the draft all together eventually too.
Why risk it?
In turn, that leaves it up to Zane Smith vs. Chandler Smith to get by.
The second Duel comes down to Pastrana. If he is the top finisher among the open cars, then Zane Smith, if not already locked in, is also in. If Smith beats Chandler Smith AND Johnson, then it’s down to Austin Hill vs. Conor Daly.
However, Pastrana wants to help Daly. But, is the risk too big to do so?
Pastrana said during Media Day on Wednesday that if he and Daly happen to be in the same Duel and 1 of them is already locked in, then they’d help the other. Daly asked if they should push. He then asked if either of them even know how to push?
Pastrana didn’t care. He said Daly would be the only reason that he’d risk his kids’ college education fund to get himself in the pack if need be to help Daly.
Daly will need all the help that he can get. He didn’t get to make a qualifying attempt in his No. 50 Chevrolet as the car broke an oil line prior. He has to race his way in and will make his first Daytona laps on the pace laps on Thursday night.
He’s never been on track here before and will do so in a stock car at speed in the Duel. That’s a major story and Pastrana is willing to help even with his best play being to just ride it out in the back. What’s also going for Daly’s direction too is that he has another good friend in Corey LaJoie also in this race. So he has some friends who would work with him.
For Pastrana though, his sponsors said that they’d cover the cost of his Daytona 500 entry so long as he doesn’t damage the car. If he does, he’s on the hook out of his own pocket.
Is helping Daly worth that risk?