‘Great American Race’ takes centre stage as Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets underway

During a week in which the majority of European motorsport fans will be occupied by Formula One car launches and the Mexico e-Prix, a certain event in America on Sunday marks the season-opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. And it’s one of the biggest events on the motorsport calendar.

With over 170,000 fans making their way through the gates annually, the ‘Great American Race’ takes 200 laps to complete over 500-miles of fierce wheel-to-wheel racing.

Fans of the Tom Cruise classic ‘Days of Thunder’ or the comedy movie ‘Talladega Nights’ will be more familiar with this motorsport showpiece as the Daytona 500.

The front row of the grid for Sunday’s NASCAR opener has actually already been decided. In fact, the front row is always contested one week prior to the main event, William Byron and Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet teammate Jimmy Johnson occupying the front row after a timed qualifying held on Sunday. It was Byron’s first ever Daytona 500 pole.

The remainder of the Daytona 500 starting grid will be decided after the two ‘Gander RV Duel races’ held on Thursday night, with the starting order of those two races based on Sunday’s qualifying session.

And if casual motorsport followers find the Formula One of Formula E qualifying format taxing, then you may need a PHD in mathematics to decipher how it works for the Daytona 500.

From someone who is also only familiar with NASCAR from watching Cole Trickle and Ricky Bobby roaring around the ovals, it is perhaps best left up to the experts to explain!

According to the official NASCAR website,  “Duel 1 is typically comprised from the odd-numbered drivers on the Daytona 500 qualifying speed chart — first, third, fifth, etc. Duel 2 is then the even-finishing drivers. NASCAR officials, though, ensure an even number of Open, non-Charter teams in each duel race.

“The results of those two races will determine the cars that qualify for the Daytona 500, and where they line up on the grid. The winner of Duel 1 will start the Daytona 500 in third place, second place starts fifth, and so on through the inside row. The winner of Duel 2 will start the Daytona 500 in fourth place, second place starts sixth and so on through the outside row.”

Last year’s pole sitter, Alex Bowman, wound up second after leading early in Sunday’s qualifying. Bowman will start the second Duel on pole with Hendrick’s teammate Chase Elliott next to him on the front row.

The 61st running of the Daytona 500 takes place at 2.30pm ET (19.30 GMT) on Sunday 17 February.

Top image: @DISupdates  

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.