Daytona Duels Still Hold Unique Place In Racing


The Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races at Daytona Int'l Speedway are a special part of the Daytona 500 procedure each year. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona Int’l Speedway represent part of the most unique qualifying procedure in all of motorsports.

The pair of 60-lap, 150-mile races at the 2.5-mile World Center of Racing annually help to set the starting field for the Daytona 500, which takes place for the 66th time this weekend in Central Florida.

Though some might say the Duels have lost a bit of their luster compared to previous years – with 36 drivers being locked into the Daytona 500 via NASCAR’s charter system – the intensity is still high when considering that the Duels pay out points on a 10-to-1 scale for the top-10 finishers in each race.

That fact, combined with the caveat that the highest-finishing non-chartered entry in each Duel “races their way in” to the Great American Race, means that there are still high stakes in both events.

Lineups for the Duels are set up from Wednesday night’s Busch Light Pole Qualifying times, meaning that Daytona 500 polesitter Joey Logano will lead the field to green in Duel No. 1 and outside polesitter Michael McDowell will be the top starter in Duel No. 2.

From there, the odd-numbered qualifiers fill in the starting grid for the first Duel and the even-numbered qualifiers make up the grid for the second Duel. The six open drivers are taken out of that mix and split evenly between the two Duels based on their qualifying times.

Logano will be joined on the front row of Duel No. 1 by 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, with other notables in the field including Chase Elliott (third), Martin Truex Jr. (14th) and defending Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Anthony Alfredo, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, and J.J. Yeley are the open drivers in the first Duel race, with Alfredo locked into Sunday’s Daytona 500 on speed. Should Alfredo race his way in, Johnson could then fall back on his qualifying time as the next-fastest non-chartered car.

Duel No. 2 sees McDowell and 2022 Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric sharing the front row, joined by Kyle Busch (fourth), Harrison Burton (fifth) in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21, Brad Keselowski (12th) and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (17th) as heavy hitters in that race.

David Ragan, B.J. McLeod, and Kaz Grala are the three open drivers in the second Duel, with Ragan locked in on speed no matter what happens. Should both Alfredo and Ragan race in as the highest finishing non-chartered drivers in their respective Duels, Johnson and McLeod would lock in on speed.

Yeley and Grala are the two drivers with no other option but to race in through the Duels Thursday night.

The finishing positions from Duel No. 1 set the inside file for Sunday’s Daytona 500 grid, while the finishing order from Duel No. 2 lines up the outside file of the lineup for the Great American Race.

As for the last time a Duel winner went on to hoist the Harley J. Earl Trophy at the conclusion of the Daytona 500, that came a dozen years ago, when Matt Kenseth went on to win the 2012 Daytona 500 for Roush Fenway Racing (now RFK Racing) after topping his qualifying race earlier in the week.

It’s a procedure unlike any other for a race that, more than six decades later, continues to be unlike any other in NASCAR racing.

After all, it’s called the Great American Race for a reason.

The first Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona is slated for a 7 p.m. ET green flag Thursday night, with race coverage live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.