Racing resumes at Daytona Thursday night with the running of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels to determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s 500. Here are the top storylines to follow tonight.
1. Who gets in?
We actually have some drama this year as there are more entries for the 500 than available spots. Justin Haley and Brenden Gaughen are locked in based on their qualifying time. That leaves Reed Sorenson, Daniel Suarez, Timmy Hill, JJ Yeley, and Chad Finchum, who must race their way into the Daytona 500.
Sorenson, Suarez, and Finchum are in Duel 1 while Hill and Yeley compete in Duel 2. I’ll go with conventional wisdom and say Suarez earns a spot in the first duel while Yeley makes it in the second duel.
2. Another Busch Crash?
What kind of racing will we see on Thursday? Hopefully, most of the rust was shaken off last Sunday in the accident-filled Busch Clash. The duel races should be tamer. None of these teams want to resort to a backup car. That said, I would be shocked if both races went off without incident. We may not see “The Big One,” but I haven’t seen enough to convince me they will run two 150-mile races without someone making an ill-advised block.
Along those lines, how does Ricky Stenhouse Jr. approach the race? He’s on the pole. How much risk does he take in a race where he gains nothing aside from the chance to earn a few stage points?
3. Who are the favorites?
The duels used to serve as a good barometer for who is going to contend for the win come Sunday. I’m not sure that’s true anymore. Can it be an indicator? Absolutely. On the flip side, there is more randomness and unpredictability at Daytona than ever before. You don’t have to run well in the duels to be a factor in the 500. I suspect we’ll see the usual suspects at the front of the pack Thursday, but unless you’re gunning for the front row on Pole Day, starting position just doesn’t mean what it used to. With today’s racing, starting 30th on Sunday is about the same as starting fifth.