By KFFL Staff on February 16, 2011
The Daytona Speedweeks is the name given to the period leading up to the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Speedweeks consist of several races across different levels of motorsports, highlighted by the action of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The extra track time the drivers get prior to the main event offers fantasy owners a window into making selections for the season opener. With a total of four restrictor plate races on the schedule, those that excel during Speedweeks will have an early advantage in those contests.
Preseason Thunder - Three-day test session
The Cup drivers have already seen a few chances to feel out the newly repaved race surface at Daytona. Following a tire test in December that saw speeds hit 197.0 mph in the draft, NASCAR officials decided to reduce the size of the holes in the restrictor plate. The idea was to slightly decrease the speeds. However, Brad Keselowski hit 198.6 mph while drafting with teammate Kurt Busch during the last session of January's three-day Preseason Thunder testing affair. Feeling the need to take further action, NASCAR reduced the overall plate size.
During most of these test sessions drivers opted to experiment most frequently with their teammates in two-car drafts rather than large packs to avoid the possibility of wrecking their equipment. Drivers found that the smoother track was easier on tires which will keep speeds more consistent over long green flag runs. Limited tire wear could also setup some interesting late-race decisions for crew chiefs to make.
Following two Grand-Am races and the ARCA series opener, the Cup series puts on its first competitive race of the season, the non-points-paying Budweiser Shootout. A random draw is used to determine the starting lineup. Drivers qualified to compete in the Shootout must fall into at least one of the following categories: One of the 12 drivers that qualified for the 2010 Chase, past Cup series champions, Shootout winners, Daytona 500 winners, Coke Zero 400 winners, or a Rookie of the Year from 2001 to 2010.
The race distance is 75 laps (187.5 miles) and is broken into two segments – 25 and 50 laps. Green flag and yellow flag laps both count. There is a 10-minute pit stop between segments for fresh tires, fuel and chassis adjustments.
Daytona 500 Qualifying
The qualifying session for the Daytona 500 is used primarily to award the pole and outside pole position. However, drivers not in the top 35 of owner's points may need to rely on qualifying time to punch their ticket to the big show. Each driver gets two laps to put down their best lap possible.
In each of the last two Daytona 500 qualifying events, Mark Martin is only driver to claim a spot on the front row each time. Ryan Newman posted the third-best time in each session. Other impressive qualifiers include Bill Elliott and Juan Pablo Montoya, each of whom has put down top-five qualifying efforts two years running.
Two 150-mile qualifying races are used determine how the rest of the Daytona 500 grid will take shape. The fastest qualifier from qualifying starts on the pole in the first Duel race while the second fastest qualifier gets the pole in the second.
The top 35 teams based on owner points are then placed into the Duel races. Teams with odd-numbered positions in owner points compete in the first race leaving the even-numbered positions to run in the second.
Teams outside the top 35 in owner points get their spot in the Duel races based on qualifying times. The fastest qualifier heads to the first Duel, the second-fastest competes in the second, and so on.
After the fields for the Duel races are determined the starting positions for each race are sorted by qualifying times.
Setting the Daytona 500 Lineup
- The two fastest qualifiers sit on the front row.
- Finishing positions in the Duel races determine the remaining starting positions.
- Based on their finish in the first Duel race, drivers are lined up on the inside row in the odd-number starting positions.
- Based on their finish in the second Duel race, drivers are lined up on the outside row in the even-number starting positions.
- Only the top two drivers from each Duel race outside of the top 35 in owner points earn a spot in the Daytona 500.
- The remaining starting positions are filled based on qualifying times.
- The final starting position goes to the most recent eligible past Cup champion, if one has failed to make the race by any other method.
Picks for Speedweeks
Since 2007, Johnson average qualifying effort for the Daytona 500 is 5.8, including one pole. Last year, Johnson just edged out Kevin Harvick at the finish line to capture his first ever Duel victory. The five-time defending champ does not have a win in the Shootout but has a top-five finish in half his eight career starts in the event.
Last year's Mr. Consistency has won each of the last two Shootouts. In six career starts in the event, Harvick owns an average finish of 6.5, third among drivers with at least that many starts. In eight Duel races, Harvick has earned a top-10 result in half of those starts.
When it comes to Speedweeks, Stewart is among the all-time best. In 11 Shootouts, Smoke owns three wins and has finished outside the top 10 only once. His average finish of 4.5 ranks first among all active drivers. Since 2002, Stewart has two Duel victories and five runner-up performances, including three straight.
In a dozen Duel races since 1999, Gordon has four wins and seven other top-10 finishes. In that span, Gordon has seven top-fives in the Shootout but has not won that event since 1997. He has also been decent in qualifying with four straight efforts that placed him inside the top 10.
Eric McClung has been a KFFL contributor and fantasy NASCAR consultant since 2008. His work has been published on several prominent NASCAR websites, and McClung is one of KFFL's featured NASCAR experts. He can be followed on Twitter @ericmcclung