I’ll be in Turn Two at Daytona International Speedway; genuinely excited about witnessing the Budweiser Duel at Daytona for the first time in far too long. For years now, qualifying at Daytona (and elsewhere) hasn’t meant much at all. Less “qualifying” than “arranging” thanks to NASCAR’s now lame-duck Top-35 qualifying system, Duel Day at Daytona has consisted of four hours of racing that adds just four names to the tail of the Daytona 500 starting grid.
Beginning in 2013, however, NASCAR will qualify the fastest 36 cars for each race based on… wait for it… speed! Positions 37-42 will be set by owners’ points, with the 43rd and final spot reserved for an eligible past champion, if any.
At Daytona, that change heralds the return of racing – real, honest-to-goodness racing – to the 2013 Budweiser Duel. For the first time in nearly a decade, Speedweek fans will scan the middle of a snarling pack of race cars in search of the all-important “cut-off point,” a spot that marks the difference between a $250,000 Daytona 500 start and a slash-your-wrists demoralizing DNQ.
“Changes to the NASCAR qualifying procedures will add intrigue, suspense and excitement to the Budweiser Duel at Daytona," said Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood, III this week. "The new qualifying procedures will place a greater emphasis on the finishing order of the Budweiser Duel at Daytona, (and) we expect the changes to produce incredible racing action throughout the field as drivers attempt to qualify for the sport’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race of the season.”
Chitwood is right.
For the first time in recent memory, fans will be able to watch qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500 without a slide rule. They’ll need no complicated, multi-stage procedural handbook, no crib notes to keep track of who’s in, who’s out, and why. All they’ll need to know is that if you’re 17th or better in the Budweiser Duel running order, you’re in the Daytona 500.
Eighteenth or worse? It’s time to get a move on.
With simplicity comes familiarity and excitement. And with any luck, some young upstart with no gazillion-dollar sponsor and only one car in his transporter comes out of nowhere to battle for a spot in the Great American Race.